Chapter sixteen: Oh, the insanity

Silence.

Well, somewhat like silence, as there's still the music pumping from inside the house and Travis' friend doing a strip dance with the rest of the bunch of boys cheering on, but our whole group is silent.

I don't know what to say. Yeah, this doesn't happen quite often, as I'm usually very quick on my toes, but this… news, revelation, whatever… it's just a hell of a lot to take. Evan Reid—engaged? Well, I guess the only person crazy enough to be the girl is Amber, who is, right now, still glaring at me.

"That doesn't give you any rights to make false accusations," Jamie comments, seemingly quite calmly. I'm somewhat impressed—it's as if she hasn't just found out that the object of her affections is going to be married off to a psycho.

"Prove they're not false then!" Amber shrieks at me. "You were lying on top of him!"

"Amber… Amber, let's go inside," Evan raises his voice a little and tugs on her arm.

"I can't! The guy that tried to feel me up is still in there!"

Tom sniggers, "I bet Evan will protect you."

"Well he'd better!" Amber chirps, though she looks just a little bit happier. Doesn't she realise that Tom was smirking when he spoke?

"He hasn't been doing a very good job so far, running away from home and all," she continues, giving Evan a sidelong glance that can be considered patronising, suggestive or flirtatious.

"Look, can we please not discuss this right now, in the middle of some drunken party?" Evan says, looking almost pleadingly at Amber.

"Yes, please," I say, "and you can do us all a favour and let us spend our evening in some kind of normalcy!"

And I guess I really should not have said that because Amber turns towards me again, an evil and fanatical glint in her eyes.
"Did you just insult us?"

I wonder, by 'us', does she mean Evan and her? How am I supposed to answer that question?

"Listen to me, you attention-seeking, fiancé-stealing bitch! You have no right to say bad things about Evan and I—"

"—me and Evan—" Tom interrupts.

Amber stops talking in the middle of her sentence, and directs her glare to Tom instead. For a moment she looks as if she's (fortunately) going to go off at Tom for correcting her grammar, but reconsiders and turns back to me again instead.

"And now your stupid brother made me lose my train of thought!" She shrieks.

I feel like asking, 'what train of thought?' as Tom hisses indignantly, but I decide that this argument is too imbecilic for me to continue.

"My stupid brother can do whatever he wants if it means pissing you off," I say, and turn away from her.

"I'm going inside," I declare, "come on, Jamie."

An insanely loud gasp of outrage come from behind me as I take a couple of steps towards the drunk teenagers on the veranda, followed by some very un-ladylike spluttering.

"Don't walk away from me! I'm not finished with you!"

"Amber, calm down," I hear Evan assert, and I note with satisfaction that he sounds pretty annoyed.

"Come back here!"

It takes most of my actor-trained self-restraint not to and defeat her with my superior intellect. She and Evan Reid are made for each other, I decide.

And suddenly, I hear someone yell "watch out!" and a split second later, feel myself being pushed to the ground. For the second time in ten minutes.

"How dare you walk away from me when I'm talking to you?!" the psycho screams, half-sitting on me and taking a fistful of my hair.

"Ow! Get off me!" I'm desperately trying to remember everything I learned when I took karate classes for a couple of months in year three. However, I was never informed as how to remove screaming girls while in a lying down position. The best I can do is to try hurt her as much as possible while trying to out-scream her.

"That's my nose!" Amber screams and I revel in my one moment of satisfaction before she retaliates by elbowing me in the stomach.

Vaguely I hear some cheering, but I'm not sure whether that's for my so-called cat fight or for the strip tease. I mutter some very obscene words that hopefully my future fans will never hear me say out of a movie, and decide to use my nails to mar some carefully-moisturised skin.

"Ok, that's enough!" I hear Evan say and then the insane, screaming girl is pulled off me. I blink, able to breathe fresh air once again.

"Are you ok, Alex?"

Woah. This must be my reward for keeping my head through that insane confrontation. Jared is kneeling beside me and looking down into my face like he's concerned about my well-being. Which, even if he doesn't know it yet, he definitely is.

"Uh, yeah," I reply, trying to smile, "I'm fine."

A wonderful smile graces his face. "Good. It would be pretty awful if you aren't."

He now proceeds to stand up and offer a hand to help me up. I look at his proffered hand, and I gulp slightly. This is it, the first real touch of Jared Mitchell's hand. How would it feel like? What should I do to play it cool?
"Come on," he prompts, and I slowly raise my arm.

The moment that he takes my hand can be described as one of the most magical events in the history of my life. Effortlessly, he helps me into a standing position, and as an added bonus, he's looking straight into my eyes.

Wow. Just—wow.

"Bet you weren't expecting that," Jared comments, smiling.

I can only shake my head. I'm still holding onto his hand, and we're in very close physical proximity now that I'm finally standing up. My heart is pounding so loudly in my ribcage that it's drowning out all the loud music from the party. This is a moment. Our moment. And to think I owe at least part of it to a mentally unstable teenager.

"Stop dragging me away, Evan, I need to teach her a lesson!"

Jared starts, and turns away from me to take a look at the drama that has befallen his two best friends. I follow his line of gaze, and I can make out Tom and Evan trying to restrain a struggling Amber.

"Alex!" Travis calls out from his perch on the veranda, "That was so sexy!"

His cry is met by loud cheering of agreement from his fellow drunk compatriots. "Let's see that again!" someone yells out.

This is so juvenile. I can't believe I'm here, and I can't believe that my Bednar College classmates indulge in this sort of behaviour. I open my mouth to lecture something about decency and gender equality to the drunk losers, but Jamie starts before I get a chance.

"Why don't you guys slap each other around, and we'll ogle you for a change?" she suggests to them.

And in a matter of seconds, Travis and some guy from the footie team start rolling on the grass together, again to the cheers of their friends, temporarily drowning out Amber's shrieks that expressed her desire to beat me up.

Jamie shakes her head with some hint of amusement. "Come on, let's go somewhere quieter," she says, indicating the park-like green area at the end of the street. She turns to walk away from the party scene and I stumble a bit to follow her in the opposite direction of screeching Amber and drunk, catfighting boys. I'm still feeling a bit woozy from being pulled into an unexpected brawl without a stunt double, and—

Oh. Wow. Jared just put his hand on my back to steady me. His hand is on my back. We're walking down the street, he's beside me, and his hand is on my back. In spite of all the crazy drama, this must be my lucky night. Now if I can only hint at Jamie to leave us alone for a while, and then Jared can profess his love for me or something to that effect, then this evening will be absolutely perfect.

"Doing ok there Alex?" Jared's voice sounds even better now that it's coming from right beside me.

I nod, trying to look the calm that I don't feel. I will not look at him, to spare myself some gawking. I'm going to keep walking forward in my stately manner (with Jared's magical hand guiding me, of course) and I will not be a personification of those butterflies that are invading my stomach.

So, ok, I'm going to sit down at that picnic table and spend some quiet time here with my cousin and my future husband, like a grown up. Now if I can just tell my beating heart to be still, then we can commence our twilight conversation (let's just ignore the fact that it's not twilight anymore, and Jamie's presence makes it a little less than romantic).

"So Jared, tell us who's the chick!" Jamie sounds amused and eager to gain a little bit more of information about the strange scene we had witnessed. And in my case, was a part of.

Jared chuckles. Melodiously, I may add. "She's this girl his parents picked out for him. They're supposed to get married after uni, and they're making him get to know her."

I guess this Amber really was telling the truth, not spewing some rubbish a girl with her state of mind seems to be capable of doing.

"But obviously he doesn't want to go through with it," Jamie suggests, and I almost snort in laughter. Of course Jamie wants to know that Evan doesn't want to marry this insane girl, because she feels that she should be a competitor for Evan's heart.

"Oh, he's been complaining about it for months!" Jared replies, "that girl's a complete nutcase! I mean, we thought he was exaggerating when he kept going on about how crazy she is, but now that I've seen her in action, I totally understand where he's coming from."

Jared turns to me. "It's just too bad you're the one she had to take it out on," he says with a fantastically brilliant apologetic smile.

I feel my heart leap into my throat. That is so sweet! He's just so sympathetic, and so caring, and just the most perfect guy ever!

"How did his parents find her?" Jamie seems determined to dig up all the back story of insane Amber, which is absolutely unimportant compared to my bonding with Jared.

"Oh, the parents are friends from way back," Jared turns back to the rapt Jamie, "they're kind of… traditionally aristocratic. Anyway, they decided it would be charming if the two families joined together."

Jamie scoffs. "Can't they see that she's loony? He deserves someone better than that!"

"Well of course he does, but it's not like he chosen his own crazy girls before. Have you heard about Janice Saville?"

"No, what happened with her?" Jamie leans forward eagerly with her eyes wide open.

"She broke into his room," I cut in, "and basically decided to move in with him." I can't believe Jamie, with her ear for 'current affairs', hasn't discovered this little piece of information about Evan's past yet.

"She moved her clothes into his closet, put all her schoolbooks onto his table, and crawled into his bed naked and waited for him to get back from soccer practice," Jared adds.

I'm somewhat annoyed at this incessant talk about Evan. I mean, sure, it's interesting, in a gossipy kind of way, and Janice Saville's story and the subsequent demise of Evan was the highlight of year ten (even if some of the boys worshipped his ability to snag a busty, albeit kooky, blonde), but the focus on Evan tonight has already been way too much. I was the innocent, then tackled bystander in the impromptu melee. Don't I deserve this time to rewind and relax and not have to listen to an in-depth discussion about my worst enemy in the world?

"No way!" Jamie exclaims, and raises an eyebrow almost cunningly, "so is he going out with anyone now?"

"Not that I know of," Jared replies.

"So what kind of girls is he usually into?"

Oh please. When will Jamie learn that Evan is scum and that she's better off not being anywhere near him at all?

"Hot ones," says Jared, smirking.

"It's just like him to have only one, shallow criteria," I can't help but point out. I need to do everything in my power to make Jamie realise that Evan Reid is not worth her effort.

"Well," says Jamie fairly, "he can be picky if he wants to."

"He doesn't date any of the year nines," Jared adds, "and he goes on about girls having brains or something like that and he says that's why he never goes out with anyone seriously."

"That shows he has standards and class, I suppose," says Jamie.

I snort. "It just gives him an excuse to hook up with as many members of his bimbo fan club as he can! It doesn't show anything except that he doesn't really have any depth!"

"Alex," Jamie turns to me, "I really don't think you should judge someone you don't even really know."

"I know him! I've known him for eleven years!" I find it extremely unfair of Jamie to lecture me about Evan when she's the one who really doesn't know him. She's the one who has all the obscured views about him because she has a crush on him. She has her head in the clouds, and can't see that he's really just a jerk. I hope she wakes up about this whole thing soon.

"And if it wasn't for him," I say, "We'd actually be having a good time right now."

Evan Reid totally ruined our evening. We're supposed to have fun. Jared and I are not supposed to be sitting at a table in some crummy little park discussing Evan's dating habits. And Jamie being here doesn't really help anything.

See how much better life could be without that pest?

"I've got to say though," Jared says, breaking my train of angry thoughts of blame, "it really wasn't Evan's fault that his crazy girlfriend turned up and tried to kill you tonight."

Did Jared just disagree with me? I don't know what to say. Of course it's Evan's fault. Almost everything that goes wrong in this world is probably Evan's fault. I frown a little. I don't really approve of Jared's opinion here (even though I must admit that yes, he is Evan's friend), but I don't want to argue with him. I can just overlook the slip of his tongue here. He probably didn't mean it, he just wanted to not say bad things about someone who's not here. That must be it.

"Hey guys," Tom's tired voice greets us as he sits in the bench next to Jamie across from me. His hair seems messed up and it looks like he's just been through some sort of tropical cyclone.

"We put her in a taxi and paid the driver a hundred dollars to take her back to Rose Bay and not to listen to anything she says," he continues, "and hopefully her parents won't let her loose in the city again until she's been medicated."

Jamie gives Tom a sympathetic pat on the back. "Aren't you just so glad that Aunt and Uncle haven't tried to find you a wife?" she pulls what looks like a fake fingernail decorated with rhinestones out of his hair. "Can you imagine being married to someone like Sybil Harris?"

I let out a shudder. Sybil Harris went to the same primary school as Tom, Evan and me, and her grandparents were neighbours with ours. She had the most distinctly horrible body odour and spoke with a nasally voice about only one subject, Orlando Bloom.

"Leigh," Evan Reid's half-grunt comes from behind me. I turn to see an even more frazzled-looking teenage boy, looking anywhere but at me.

"Are you talking to me?" It's a valid question, considering that he didn't annunciate his word very clearly and he seems to be in a deep telepathic connection with his sneakers.

He lets out an exasperated sigh and raises his head to roll his eyes at me. "Yes, you. Can I talk to you?"

What? That's something I thought would never come out of Evan Reid's mouth. And he looks serious too, and even I, with my superior knowledge of acting and drama, can't tell if he's joking or not.

"Why?" I ask, maybe a little uncouthly, but hey, he's catching me off guard!

"Maybe because I have something to say?"

It's not very polite, but totally expected from someone as indecorous as Evan Reid. I am somewhat curious about what he wants to say to me, though, because I doubt we've had anything civil to say to each other since kindergarten.

"That's not a good enough reason," I say in response. I turn back to the others, and catch the tail-end of a particularly descriptive recount of Sybil's stench.

"Look, can you just come talk to me for a minute?" his tone almost sounds like he's trying to beg me to talk to him! But of course I still refuse.

I hear Evan sigh. "Please?" he asks.

Wow, he was pleading! This makes me turn back around to face him. He walks a few metres away from the picnic table and faces me, arms crossed, looking expectant. It's my turn to roll my eyes at his childish behaviour, but I decide to humour him, just this once, because he asked nicely, and because, well, I guess Jared is right (like always) and the long scratch marks on my arms were not his fault but Amber's. I get up from the bench and walk over to Evan.

I cross my arms too, just for fun. "What do you want?"

He's staring at his shoes again and I'm waiting expectantly, which is absolutely ridiculous since I should be engaged in conversation with Jared (about me and Jared) and not standing here, in the dark, staring at someone I hate.

I'm just going to tell him off for keeping me waiting. Even though he said please, I'm still not about to just stand here indefinitely and wait for him to say some half-arsed stupid thing! I've got better things to do with my time.

"I'm sorry."

It comes out as a mumble and I have to stop my chiding words halfway.

"What did you just say?" I don't really believe I heard right. He should really speak clearly.

"Oh don't make me say it again," Evan snaps, louder now.

I don't get it. "Did you just apologise?"

"Yes."

Um, ok. "What for?"

He lets out a sound that's somewhere between a really loud sigh and a frustrated groan, which just makes me wonder more if this is just a really fat joke.

"For the whole… Amber… thing." He waves a hand around in the air as if to gesture something or make a point, but I still don't get it.

Evan takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry that she turned up and started acting like a bitch and—"

I let out a (very) involuntary snort, because this is just too surreal. "You mean she is a bitch? She had no right to just bulldoze her way here and scream at me!"

"Will you just let me finish? I'm trying to apologise here!" Evan glares at me and I cross my arms tighter. I guess I should hear him out.

"No, she didn't have any right to come here tonight," Evan continues, in a quieter voice now, "which means that what she did was wrong."

I guess we both agree on that point. "So, why are you apologising then? It wasn't your fault."

"Because obviously Amber isn't going to do it herself!"

Well, yes, that's a good point. I can't think of anything to argue against that with. I'd never thought that talking to Evan would be a preferable substitute for anyone or anything, but this has been a rather strange evening. Still, Evan and I hate each other. You'd expect him to be laughing at me right now, not mumbling out an apology.

"And I think that you deserve an apology."

He's looking at his shoes again, and trying to pick an invisible bit off dirt off his jacket. I let the silence stay for a while. So what the hell do I say now?

I guess he's trying to do something good, which is a ridiculously weird change from, well, life and reality, but this is getting really uncomfortable. I can't possibly tell him to piss off now, or make some pointed comments about mental illnesses. I can't even bring myself to gloat inwardly about his misfortune in being associated with someone like Amber.

This is just a side of Evan Reid I've never seen before. And it's weird.

We've been standing here and being silent for I don't know how long, but Tom, Jamie and Jared are laughing about rotting eggs so it can't be that much time. Maybe I should just walk back and join them, because listening to Jared laugh definitely beats standing and staring at my arch enemy who is, in turn, still staring at his shoes.

"Um, well, I finished talking, so yeah," he suddenly announces, and turns to walk away from me.

I sigh, and "Wait!" just comes out of my mouth before I even realise it.

Evan stops and this time actually looks at me face. I'm pretty much as confused as he looks, because I don't know what possessed me to stop him from just leaving, but I'm determined not to look like a sore loser by not saying anything back to him. I mean, he just apologised to me. I should, accept it, or something. Even if he is a jerk ninety-nine percent of the time, he deserves some recognition for this one act of kindness, right?

"Jamie thinks you're hot," I say. I must sound so stupid, because Evan's frowning at me as if I'd just sprouted a tentacle.

"Jamie thinks you're hot, and she asked me to set the two of you up," I tell him quickly, "so I'm telling you now, and you can go… talk to her, or whatever."

And here's that stupid silence again, though this time it's even more awkward because I'm the one doing the rambling instead of being aloof and just listening to them.

"Um, ok," he nods civilly, "Thanks, I guess."

I nod too, in return, "You're welcome, just don't tell Amber because Jamie has so much to live for."

And now that I've been polite and had something to offer to say back, I proceed to return to my love.

"What was that for, anyway?"

Or, I guess, not yet, if Evan Reid insists on quizzing me like a game show host.

"Take it as an 'apology accepted'", I call back.

I take a seat on the bench next to Jamie so that I can gaze at Jared from across the table.
She raises an eyebrow at me. "Were you just chatting with Evan?"

Oh my god. She's right. I can't believe it.

I just had my first ever civil conversation with Evan Reid, and I don't even feel suicidal now. He apologised to me, and I gave him the go-ahead to hang out with my cousin. What is this world coming to?

This has been a really bizarre night indeed.


So this chapter has been 1.5 years in the making. Please excuse me for trying to grow up in the meantime. This project started with nothing more than the outline of a bunch of characters who I thought would be fascinating to work with, but of course that's not enough.

When I have lots of time, I plan to do major revisions, rewriting much of the earlier chapters, and making this whole thing suck less, now thatI actually know where I'm headed. I want to do this right, but it's hard. There are priorities.

But thanks for the support, and I hope I can continue to receive more.