AN: Unfortunately, I didn't have time to really work on editing this story in the last few weeks. Since I'm going on holiday, I wanted to give you the next chapter anyway. I only got around to the rough edit and I wanted to change a few things around. But I will probably be doing that when I'm back (around November 5).
Chapter 3 – It Really Shouldn't Be You
"Crap! Crap! Crap!" Cursing, Ceri yanked her jeans up as she, all the while hopping on one leg, tried to bring something akin to order to her sleep-tousled hair.
"Damn!" Resignedly, she tossed the brush across the room as the bristles once again got tangled with her rebellious curls.
She was way too late, and she had promised Melanie she would drive her to school that morning because she had gotten her car smashed for the nth time.
Caden would be furious, he hated to be late – which was quite contradictory considering the fact that he didn't always care enough to even show up to class.
Ceri paused as she reached for her toothbrush.
Where was he anyway?
Normally, when she forgot to set her alarm clock, he was there to drag her -if need be with some force- out from under her sheets.
Lost in thought, she trotted down the stairs.
"You're late, cherie." Nanna's dry comment startled her.
"I know. Why didn't you wake me up?"
The housekeeper raised her eyebrows while she piled pancakes on a green glass plate.
"There are things in life, cherie," she said, "which are worth risking one's life. Your punctual presence in English AP is not one of them."
She put the pancakes in front of Ceri on the table. "And now eat up ma puce. You need some meat on those bones."
Ceri grumbled something under her breath. Nanna ignored her. Ceri may be many things, but a morning person wasn't one of them. So, one was well advised to let her be between six and ten o'clock in the morning.
"Melanie phoned," remarked Nanna in passing.
Ceri choked on her food. "Oh shit, I totally forgot about that." She jumped up. "Where is Caden? We gotta go now!"
"Caden already left."
Nanna regarded her protege from behind hooded eyelids. "Some friend of his came by and picked him up early in the morning, cherie. Said quelque chose° about football training."
Ceri didn't know what to say.
He was avoiding her, that was for sure, and here she was thinking that things would be okay between them after yesterday evening.
Maybe she read too much into it, though.
He knew how much she abhorred to be woken up at six o'clock in the morning only to find herself on a deadly cold field watching thirty pubertal boys beating each other up.
Caden had tried more than once to explain to her that it didn't solely involve "kicking the other guy's asses" as he had put it, but consisted of purely logical moves, not unlike chess, in a complicated game. But Ceri never did understand the difference.
For her, football was a series of avoidable mass collisions and the resulting painful, as well as inevitable, injuries.
Maybe Caden was just being considerate. Maybe. But, most likely, he was avoiding her as if she was the plague incarnated.
That was his pattern after all.
It was quite simple, really, thought Ceri with resignation. Get her out of trouble (whether she wanted his help or not, never really seemed to matter at that point), act like the last Neanderthal, ignore her afterwards wherever it was possible, only to finally explode like a badly made boiler.
That was Caden. And Ceri was fed up with his behaviour.
Absentmindedly, she asked herself how he would like a taste of his own medicine. She pressed her lips together and grabbed her lunch packet that was sitting on one cupboard.
"Thank you for the food, Nanna. I gotta run, Mel will have my head otherwise."
She was almost out of the door as her housekeeper called her back. "Take Caden's lunch with you, cherie°, he forgot it this morning."
So much for her plan to give him the go-by in the days to come.
"You know, I missed Art because of you!"
Ceri rolled her eyes. "You don't even like art, Mel."
Melanie crossed her arms in a huff. "Hello?! Jason Daris is in that class, of course, I like art."
Ceri raised a sarcastic eyebrow but didn't take her eyes from the road. "Remind me again why I'm friends with you."
"Many reasons. You depend on me, sweet cheeks. Without yours truly, you wouldn't even have the last clue about the meaning of the word 'sexy.' Even though I'm not sure if it's gotten through your thick head yet. But we'll get there, no need to panic."
Ceri cast her a quick glare. "Of course I know what 'sexy' signifies."
Her friend smirked. "Sure, sweetie, who of us is living with the definition of Mr Hot and is still breathing to tell the tale, eh?"
Ceri blinked. "I'm sorry, but I can't follow you there."
"Well, it's quite simple really. Hotblooded female plus Caden Morrow, who is just getting out of the shower with nothing but a towel around his narrow hips – oh my freaking God – " Melanie fawned theatrically for air, "equals immediate death due to a heart attack. Now, as you seem to be pretty healthy – and you can't tell me that you've never seen him without his shirt on – it is my conclusion that you either have no fire of any kind in your blood or that you're just too naive to notice what's strolling up and down right in front of your face. I personally put my money on the latter."
"And how pray tell, did you figure that?" Ceri was annoyed; it was entirely too early to get into discussions over her cold-bloodedness or naivete. Especially when the topic was Caden. Cold-blooded wasn't the term she would use to describe her attitude towards him. Reserved maybe. But what did Melanie know?
"Call it instinct. While we're at it, where is said hunk anyways?"
Ceri suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. "Football training."
"And you're telling me that just now?"
"What's there to tell? Or would you have preferred him to be here to steal your breath away with his 'sexiness' or something?"
"Ha!" Melanie pointed a victorious finger at her friend. "I knew it. All my influence. So you're admitting that he is sexy?"
Ceri sighed and leaned her head back as they stopped at a red light. "I would have to be blind not to notice."
Melanie smiled and Ceri could have sworn she'd seen something like sarcasm in her gaze. "Really? And here I was convinced you were just that."
The traffic light switched to green and saved Ceri from answering, a fact which didn't disturb her friend in the least.
"I mean," she continued, "how can a healthy girl not notice when she is driving the guys around her crazy?"
"I prefer to ignore that possibility."
"Crazy, I tell you, crazy."
Ceri shrugged and smiled slightly.
She could have trapped him on the field after gym, or in the corner where he always stood with his friends before class or sometimes in between - she knew, after all, which classes he had and when. Or, or, or. But she didn't.
So, Ceri found herself standing uncertainly at the edge of the grand cafeteria.
With their lunches in her hands and not knowing what exactly she was doing there.
Normally, she wasn't this nervous when it came to him - or any other boy, for that matter.
But normally, she knew what to expect, even with Caden - especially with Caden.
She didn't know when she'd first seen what had all those other girls fawning over him.
But, up until now, she had been able to handle it. She had just ignored this…crush, for it was nothing more than that, just a simple, teenage crush. And it would never be anything more, especially when he was clearly seeing her as nothing more than a little sister, somewhat similar to Delilah. Only older and therefore much more nerve-racking.
And now he was ignoring her once again. Over and over again her thoughts returned to that.
It hurt and that made her angry. He hadn't the right to touch her feelings, not when she clearly didn't want it.
But he did it anyway.
Did he know just how much it frustrated her?
Was that the reason why he did it time and time again?
To get back at her?
To punish her because she had gotten herself into a dangerous situation?
Why did he even care?
Why did he care whether or not something happened to her?
But he did care. She was his little sister or as good as. The thought hurt, somehow.
Why did she even care what he thought about her?
But she did care.
It all went back to this crush, this stupid, juvenile crush, which just wouldn't seem to disappear.
At the bottom of things, she mused as her thoughts began to turn in circles, it was good that they solely coexisted. Who knew what would happen if he got too close, both emotionally and physically?
Closer than he was already, anyway.
Students came and went through the big, folding doors that she stood in front of, greeting her in passing.
Mindlessly, Ceri returned the greetings without really noticing who was talking to her.
Her eyes were fixed on the tall, black-haired boy who sat at the other end of the cafeteria sprawled out in one of the big armchairs, which were solely reserved for the seniors, staring in deep thought at the empty space before him. It was a common picture, that boy with the faraway, brooding gaze. He was an enigma for most and maybe that was the reason for his appeal.
But it wasn't what fascinated Ceri. She knew his mysteries, she knew, most of the time, what was happening behind those intense eyes of his. It wasn't his appearance either. Actually, he wasn't even her type. Too scruffy. She liked short hair. Preferably short and red and green eyes, or blue.
It hadn't been too long ago that she had made a list with Pia, one of her closest friends, about the attributes of Mr Right.
Pia wanted black hair and blue eyes.
Ceri didn't care much about the eyes as long as they were coloured – brown and grey were just too boring. He should be a redhead, though - Ceri loved colours.
Pia wanted him to have a well-built body. He should be able to carry her on his hands, she had said giggling.
Ceri had just rolled her eyes, the body didn't matter anyway. And even if it did, muscles really weren't that aesthetic! He should be delicate and able to move sinuously.
Pia wanted him to be taller than her by at least a foot.
Ceri only reckoned that she could easily forgo an eternally cramped neck.
Pia wanted him to be mysterious and carry his fair share of problems.
Ceri just told her that she had a mother complex. As far as she was concerned, the ideal man had to be at peace with the world and himself, and always ready to make her laugh. He had to be funny and understand her humour.
Pia wanted him to be a god in bed.
At that Ceri had shut her mouth.
Caden was Pia's dream guy and not hers. So what was it that captivated her? What was the reason for this damnable crush? Ceri didn't know the answer.
She didn't know anything anymore when it came to him. It frustrated her to no end.
Still, there she stood at the entrance of the cafeteria, not quite sure what she was supposed to do.
Suddenly, she was furious with herself.
Was she a coward?
Couldn't she even walk over to a boy, who she had known since the ill-fated days of the playpen, to give him his lunch?
Yet, it was just this gesture of bringing him his lunch that made her hesitate. It was something so caring, so thoughtful – so housewife-like. A role she normally had no problem identifying herself with.
What in hell was wrong with her?
Since when did she act this shy?
Oh, what the hell!
Frustrated with the endless analysis of herself, Ceri started forward. A girl could only take so much insight on her own mind before she became positively insane.
Caden looked up when he noticed her approach.
A short flare in his expressive eyes and then he turned away. They were a light brown - he seemed to be surprised.
Ceri stopped next to his armchair, ignoring the catcalls from his friends. She was used to it. They acted as if she was a piece of exquisite flesh everyone wanted a part of and they were the pashas who should get the best pieces. To Ceri, they were simply primitive. She didn't know why Caden chose to hang out with them.
"You forgot your lunch."
He looked up at her and then at the little, blue box in her right hand. He seemed bored, but his eyes kept their brown colour. If she hadn't known any better, she could have sworn that he was pleased to see her.
"Thanks." His fingers touched hers when he took the container. She had to force herself not to shudder. This crush was really starting to become a nuisance.
He didn't seem to notice her nervousness. But, as Ceri turned around, he grabbed her wrist.
This time she couldn't contain the involuntary shudder of her muscles.
Caden studied her. "Did you eat already?" His gaze dropped to the closed lunch box in her hands.
She shrugged. "I didn't have the time, Caden. Don't worry about it."
She looked at him confused.
"You didn't eat. I didn't eat. So sit down, we're gonna eat together."
Ceri crossed her arms. How dare he order her around. "I can't believe that you think you have to control me, Caden."
His gaze didn't waver from hers. "I don't control you, Ceri. I just want to eat with you, nothing more." He lowered his voice and tugged her down so he could speak into her ear. "This has nothing to do with what happened last year." His intense eyes regarded her calmly. "Unless you want it to."
She shook her head and he released her.
She cleared her throat. "I was on my way to the Pond. If you to want, you can tag along."
Her gaze was defiant, but the smile with which he answered came easily.
The movement with which he stood up reminded Ceri, ironically enough, of a river; it was so fluent, almost without transition.
There had been a reason that Ceri had named the Pond as her destination; Caden loathed going there. He might not admit it, but she could see it in his stiff posture, his reserved phrases.
That was why she had hoped that he wouldn't come. But he was too stubborn once he had made up his mind.
The Pond was the little fountain in the roofed inner courtyard of Franklin Roosevelt High School. Why it was called Pond of all things most people had forgotten a long time ago, and it wasn't of any importance anyway. When asked, most answered with the slightly helpless response that that's just what it was.
Over the years the small, plain spout, which had most likely been a donation from some rich sponsor, had become the meeting point for the numerous girl cliques of the senior and junior years.
Naturally, it wasn't solely girls who gathered around that particular point of the high school. More often than not, their boyfriends tagged along as well as some of the, let's say, more open-minded boys who rejoiced in gossip as much, if not more, than their female counterparts.
But still, there were mostly girls to be found lounging on the armchairs, sofas, and benches which had been collected over the years. It was here that the newest gossip wandered from lip to ear and that the most vicious schemes were born. But here new friendships were born and deepened as well.
It was a meeting point and was seen as such by the girls.
The boys saw it as, more often than not, a lion's den as well as a paradise in its mystery.
Which would explain the laughing and encouraging yells from Caden's friends when he followed Ceri.
It wasn't particularly desirable for a boy, or anyone for that matter, to sit motionless while the gossip mill was turning as if there was no tomorrow – with oneself as the centre of attention.
Caden, especially, had come to know that feeling quite well.
He was an interesting topic for the girls. Good looking, mysterious, and had never, as far as they knew, had a serious girlfriend. Well, there had been that rumour about a girl from another school…but that had been just that, a rumour.
He had affairs, though, oh yes. He may not have been a playboy, like some of his friends, but he didn't tend to say no when the opportunity arose – as long as both sides were completely aware that it would be nothing more than a one-night-stand.
Quite a few wondered who he would choose next. The more perfidious of them even had their bets already made.
Caden abhorred this, so he avoided the initiators of such rumours as a matter of principle.
However, conversations didn't stop when the both of them came into the small inner courtyard, nor did heads turn when they recognized Caden Morrow as the dark figure next to their fair student body president.
Why should they when it was common knowledge that he detested being the centre of attention?
Not that the female and some of the male, population of this school gave too much thought for what he did or didn't like. But there were quite a few among them who had the invariable, absurd, not to be wiped out hope that he would one day notice and fall head-over-heels in love with them.
Ceri sat down at her usual spot next to Melanie and Pia.
Melanie gazed in Caden's direction - who had, with his arms crossed over his chest, taken a seat next to Ceri on the sofa - shooting her friend a questioning look afterwards.
The blond girl shrugged and opened her lunch. "He invited himself."
Caden raised one brow and bent over so that he could speak into her ear. Even though the gesture seemed as if his words were only meant for her, his voice was loud enough that the bystanders had no trouble understanding him.
"Liar." His breath touched her skin and she could feel how the heat rose into her face.
"You were the one who wanted to eat with me. Bottom line: you invited yourself."
His face was so close that she could see the subtle scar on the right side of his nose where his piercing had once been.
"Do you find my company disdainful?"
She couldn't see if he was hurt, his gaze was inquiring, penetrating. His eyes seemed darker though, more closed off.
Ceri shook her head. "I didn't mean it that way, Caden."
He smiled slightly and she saw that she had been fooled. He just knew her too well.
With that, he sat up straight and focused his entire attention on the baguette in his lap.
Melanie followed the exchange with raised eyebrows while Pia stealthily gazed at Caden and the rest pretended they hadn't heard a word.
It didn't take long for Ceri to be absorbed into other conversations. In the circle of her friends, her demeanour was self-confident and she said directly what was on her mind.
Caden was silent.
But, again and again, his eyes wandered to the girl next to him