27-The Calm Before the Storm
Marissa stared nervously at Ezra who continued to watch her like she had just stripped herself of all her clothes: a struggle between desire and disbelief. She thought fast (faster than she usually would).
"Are you turned on?" She asked abruptly. She almost slapped herself in front of him. Really? That was the best she could come up with in four seconds? She supposed speedier thinking didn't exactly equate to better thinking.
"What?" Ezra demanded after a beat of utter stupefaction. His eyes had narrowed into the starting stages of a glower, like he thought she was messing with him. Okay. She could go with that.
"You know," Marissa smiled nervously, "you said you wanted me to be polite and beg you for a kiss earlier…" Where was she going with this again?
"So you were joking?" Ezra asked, his face formed into the full-blown peak of an irritated scowl.
Yes! That's right! She was messing with him.
"Yeah, like…" When her befuddled mind came to a blank, she decided to improvise. She lifted the skirt of her dress dangerously high, revealing her upper thighs. "Don't you want a piece of this? Please?" She tacked on the last word lamely, realizing her question made no sense at all a little too late. He didn't seem to notice.
"Get inside!" Ezra barked at her harshly, making her flinch back. She hurriedly scurried away as she lowered her skirt back to its normal length, knowing that she was just testing his patience now. As she bounded up the stairs, she slipped on a patch of ice and skidded down rather hard. She yelped in surprise, not really registering the pain until a few seconds had passed.
"Marissa…" She heard a groan in Ezra's direction, before footsteps starting crunching on the snow-packed ground.
"No, I'm fine!" She called out, jumping to her feet. She held back a wince, biting her lip to keep all whimpers in check. "You can go home, Ezra!" She spoke quickly, truly worried about what would happen if he came too close and aided her into the house.
"Your fall looked pretty painful," his voice was significantly closer as it made the dry quip. Marissa looked up to see him nearly at the steps she was standing on. She inwardly cursed his long legs.
"I'm okay, Ezra," Marissa stressed, lifting a foot and turning it to prove her point. It was true though. Other than the pain of heavy impact still lingering on her butt and shin – both of which would probably end up leaving their respective bruises – and the quickly fading ache on her ankle from having landed on it a little awkwardly, Marissa was perfectly fine.
Nevertheless, Ezra was already in front of her on the stair step below the one she was currently standing on. An exasperated look was on his face, as he bent down and began to gently dust off the snow from her coat and dress. He paused in his attentions, hesitating for a moment before brushing off the snow from her legs with light fingers as well. She bit her tongue as she felt the heat of his hands sear through the thin layer of nylon right to the surface of her skin. Her toes curled inside the uncomfortable heels as the tips of his fingers seemed to linger at her thigh, right above the back of her knee. She stepped back, up to the front porch, away from him, needing the physical distance between their bodies. Ezra raised his head to look at her.
"Sorry about the stupid joke earlier." Marissa apologized sincerely, embarrassment making the blood rush to her cheeks to warm them up. "I know it's something you would usually do. To piss me off."
Ezra snorted at this, but did not deny it.
"Thanks again for the dinner and thank you for the drive home." Marissa took another step back, hand reaching out behind her blindly to grasp at the screen-door handle. She did not want to turn away from Ezra just yet. She smiled nervously.
"And the kiss too?" He drew out in a husky drawl, a trace of a smile quirking his lips.
"Yes," she rasped back.
"Good night, Marissa." He said softly. "I like you."
She walked back to him, covering the distance in three steps as she bent down to give him a gentle touch of lips.
"I like you." She murmured back, running a hand through his hair, before retreating away once more to unlock the door and step inside. Ezra stood on the steps until the lights in her bedroom window had turned on. Then, he began to walk back to his car, touching the back of his hand to his lips with a small smile.
"So…." Veneta drawled, picking idly at her food. "How'd it go…?"
"She's lovely, Vie." Marissa responded to the unasked question. "I've already told you this when you called on Sunday and this morning in the change-room, but she's wonderful, and I like her."
"Oh, God." Veneta rolled her eyes disdainfully. "Not you too."
"She was very sweet and charming, for your information." Marissa pointed out. "I admit, I was a little intimidated at first, but she was very welcoming and friendly. I have no idea how you can hate her. Ezra and Spencer were completely right; she's polite, affectionate, attractive, smart, and extremely nice. She's practically perfect."
Silence met Marissa's gushing. Veneta glowered darkly at the blonde for a good long minute, which Marissa chose aptly to ignore.
"Traitor!" Veneta roared finally, as she began to throw her fries at Marissa.
"What!" Marissa yelped in surprise as a fry hit her in the forehead. "What are you doing? You're wasting good food!"
Veneta ignored her as she continued her assault by showering her tub of French fries on Marissa, muttering, "Traitor! Blasphemy! Deceived! Manipulation! Insultation!"
"You're just saying random things now!" Marissa accused, as she tried to half avoid and half catch the fries into her mouth, by opening it wide.
"So when are you going to go see your new BFF, traitorous bitch?" Veneta demanded, giving up on throwing her fries to kick at Marissa under the table.
"Ow! Whoever said she's my BFF?" Marissa demanded, trying to ward off the attack on her legs.
"You did, you stupid blonde!"
"Go hang out with your 'practically perfect' future sister-in-law, asshole!" Veneta snapped.
"You're my BFF, you impulsive, vindictive bitch!" Marissa yelped, as she rubbed at a spot on her shin that she was sure would bruise. "And I'm not going to see her again!"
Veneta froze. She stared at Marissa wide-eyed. "Really?"
"Yes, really." Marissa reassured, warily eyeing the smaller girl. "God, you're weird."
Marissa started back at the strange sound Veneta was making as she lunged at the taller girl across the table to hug her. It seemed like it was some sort of whale-like cry of joy.
"Oh, you bitch!" Veneta cried affectionately, only able to clutch at the front of Marissa's shirt. "I knew you could never betray me, you stupid blonde! I love you, you asshole!" She was repeating her earlier insults now, only her tone was quite different from before.
"That's great." Marissa murmured, as she patted Veneta's head. "Although I really don't like the terms of endearment you're currently using."
"I think they're nice." A male voice declared cheerfully behind Marissa.
"Hi Spence." Veneta greeted, as she released her hold on Marissa's shirt.
"Hello Spencer." Marissa addressed as well, smoothing down her collar, as the boy sat down beside her. "You're late."
"I was buying dance tickets from in front of the student council office." He replied. "They started selling today."
"When's the dance?" Marissa asked.
"Next Friday." Veneta replied. "Did you get mine too?" She asked, turning to Spencer.
"Yeah," he handed over a blue ticket with swirly white script declaring "Winter Dance" in front.
Veneta took it with a "thanks".
"Are you really not going?" Spencer asked Marissa.
"Yeah, not my thing."
All of a sudden, a girl barrelled into their table in a flash of reddish-blonde hair. She doubled over in pain, clutching at her left hip.
"Leila! Are you okay?" Marissa stood up in surprise as she fretted over the shorter girl in concern. Leila winced.
"Yeah, I'm good." She hissed, rubbing at her hip in dismay.
"The hell did you do that for?" Veneta frowned.
"I thought I'd be able to stop in time before making impact." Leila replied, as Marissa asked if she wanted some ice.
"Sometimes, I wonder if the red in your hair was just a fluke at birth." Veneta deadpanned pointedly gesturing at Marissa's hair.
"Thank you for your concern, Veneta." Leila muttered with a pout the same time Marissa cried out an offended "hey!"
"I'm good, I'm good." Leila said as she straightened up, smoothing back her long coppery-gold hair.
"Where were you first period, Leila?" Spencer spoke up after observing the three girls with amusement.
"Why? Did you miss me?" Leila teased, grinning slyly at the blond boy.
"Of course!" Spencer cried, clutching at his chest. "Le français just ain't the same without you."
"But of course!" Leila mirrored his theatrics by drawing out her words in an exaggerated French accent that had nasally undertones. She flipped her hair dramatically. "C'est tragique! Tragique! Mon ami~!"
"They seem very similar." Marissa murmured at Veneta who was making a face that almost seemed annoyed. "It's like looking at two hyperactive Golden Retrievers playing off of each other's ridiculousness."
"Seriously, where were you?" Spencer asked Leila curiously.
"I'm on the dance committee." She shrugged, sobering up. "We had to finalize some stuff with the student council. Which reminds me…" She turned to address the two girls. "We need volunteers to help decorate the gym the day before the dance."
"No way." Marissa made a face. "I'm not even going to the dance."
"Which is why you should come to decorate." Leila smiled brightly. "It's for your sake. You'll get volunteer hours, time off from school work, and you'll make beautiful high school memories to look back on fondly." She ticked off the reasons on thin, pale fingers.
"It's amazing how you can say things that are so obviously meant to con me, but smile so innocently while doing so." Marissa muttered dryly.
"It's because I have dimples." She pointed to the holes in her cheeks as she continued to smile sweetly. "And not pimples." All three of her peers groaned at her lame attempt at a rhyming joke. She tittered, unfazed, making a 'victory' sign with her hand.
"So, do you want to? Eh, Marissa? Ehhhh?" Leila nudged the blonde, not even bothering to be discreet as she elbowed the taller girl in the ribs. "You know you wanna, right? Right?"
Marissa tried to shove her away, but that just made Leila cling to her arm. She began to rub her face into Marissa's shoulder. "Please, Marissa? I just need a few more people to help out. Please, please, please?"
"Oh, alright." Marissa grumbled, trying to shake her off. "Just cut it out! I'm getting goose-bumps, man."
Leila whooped as she began to shake Marissa's arm up and down in enthusiasm.
"You know I'm your best friend, right?" She grinned happily. Marissa rolled her eyes at the blatant show of kissing-ass Leila was putting on, but she couldn't help but smile a little. Marissa really had to wonder if Leila was even more of a ditz than her.
"Back off, Anne of Green Gables." Veneta snapped, grabbing a hold of Marissa's other arm. She tried to yank her away from Leila's clutches. "She's my best friend."
"I like Anne of Green Gables, thank you very much." Leila retorted.
"You're welcome!" Veneta shot back. "But I'm Marissa's best friend!"
"I'm closer in height to her than you are."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Venta's voice rose in offence. "She's still mine!"
"Did you write your name on her?" Leila challenged.
"I was just going to." Veneta retorted. Marissa had a hard time deciding whether the two were joking or not. She realized they were not when they both demanded Spencer for a pen.
"No, me!" Veneta cried. "Give me the pen!"
"Spencer!" Leila protested. "I gave you candy two days ago! You owe me!"
"Spencer!" Marissa yelped, trying to struggle out of both girls' holds on her. "Help me out here!"
"Guys," Spencer raised his hands in surrender, as he got up slowly, trying to secretly escape. "I don't have a pen on me."
"You're so useless!" All three girls yelled at him, as he turned to run. Instead, he collided into another person.
"Woah, Spencer." A voice that made Marissa freeze, laughed. "You alright, man?"
"Owen!" Spencer cried. "Girls are so scary!"
"Yeah." Owen replied, as he glanced at Marissa, smiling hesitantly. Marissa gave him a tentative smile in return. It was weird, because they still greeted each other in gym, but there were times when things got awkwardly silent between them, and no matter how friendly their terms were when they had broken up, Marissa still felt a twinge of guilt. Leila glanced between Marissa and Owen, before biting down on Marissa's arm.
"Ow! Hey!" Marissa yelped.
"I claimed her!" Leila pointed at Veneta in warning. Both Marissa and Veneta started spluttering in protest. "Just be glad I didn't pee on her!"
"Owen-baby!" Leila released Marissa's arm and ran up to the tall athlete, grabbing a hold of his shirt to lead him away. "Do you need volunteer hours?"
"Volunteer hours? Leila, I just told you earlier that-" Owen seemed confused as he let himself be dragged off by the redhead.
"She's surprisingly smooth." Veneta grudgingly admitted.
"Yeah, beneath her idiotic immaturity and corny jokes, she's actually really observant and smart." Spencer agreed.
"Oh, was she one of your sex buddies?" Veneta asked in a tense voice.
"What are you talking about?" Spencer frowned. "I've never even kissed her before."
"Well, you two seem close." Marissa cut in before Veneta could say anything more. "Anyways, I'll see you later." She gave a quick wave as she dragged the petite brunette out of the cafeteria.
"What was that?" Veneta asked in confusion.
"I should be asking you that." Marissa replied. "Why were you getting all up in Spencer's face about Leila? Are you," she hesitated before finishing her question. "Are you jealous of her?"
"Of course I am." Veneta replied immediately. "She totally claimed you before I could do anything about it."
Marissa shot her a dry look. "I meant about Spencer."
Veneta's face darkened at that. "She cannot steal away any of my best friends, including Spencer. I knew you both first."
"Of course." Marissa sighed.
"Alright, everyone." Leila clapped her hands to grab everyone's attention. "Let's get this show on the road!"
Marissa along with everyone else who had volunteered to decorate the gym just stared at her blankly.
"You haven't assigned anything yet." One girl pointed out, a little confused.
"Well, we need some boys to do the physical stuff, like setting up tables and chairs. Then, anyone who's left can get to hanging the banner and blowing and putting up balloons and tissue paper and whatnot. The specifics of the décor will be clarified by Yura, who'll be coming along later with the student council. She'll also be bringing along mistletoe. So, yay for that!" Leila shook an enthusiastic fist in the air. Silence greeted her. She continued to smile unfalteringly. "Remember that the theme, as always, will be a 'winter wonderland'. So, get to it."
"It's amazing how cheerful she is, isn't it?" A voice startled Marissa. She turned to see Owen standing beside her. There again was the pinch of guilt in her gut.
"Yeah. She's like Spencer on a permanent dosage of happy pills." Marissa agreed. Owen chuckled. They headed over to where there were stacks of paper, rolls of tape, a bunch of staplers, and many pairs of scissors. Apparently the colour scheme was blue, white, and silver.
"Did she get you to come by whining and pleading too?" Marissa asked curiously, as she sat down.
"Actually, it's weird." He sat down across from her. "I had volunteered beforehand, but she dragged me off for whatever reason."
"You two seem close." Marissa smiled, knowing that Leila had dragged him off to prevent any awkwardness from arising on her part. She was sweet.
"Nah." Owen shook his head. "More like acquaintances. We've just known each other since junior high."
"But she calls you-"
"Owen-baby!" Leila plopped down beside him. "We need some help with the physical labour of moving tables and chairs." She nodded over at the boys struggling to move the tables. "I'll help out over here."
"Sure thing." He smiled and stood up. As the two girls watched him walk away, Leila spun around to look at Marissa.
"So chummy with the ex." Leila shook her head in disapproval as she clucked her tongue. She pursed her lips and squinted her eyes in an exaggerated manner to show that she was just kidding. Marissa grinned.
"You're one to talk. I didn't even know you knew Owen Adams."
"The question is; who doesn't know Owen Adams?" Leila retorted as she started ripping out sheets of paper. "We've got to make paper chains."
"Is he that popular?" Marissa asked, as she engaged herself in the work as well.
"He's on the football team in the fall, the hockey team in the winter, and the soccer team in the spring." Leila listed off. "He's good-looking in that wholesome jock-like way, but he's also a total gentleman, which is both off-putting and attractive."
Marissa cocked her head. "So, more popular than Ezra and Spencer?"
"Competing now, are we?" Leila teased. "No, no. They're just different. Ezra's the quintessential bad boy leading a promiscuous lifestyle, but he's good at sports and academics. So, he's a walking contradiction, also making him the perfect package for a teenage girl with raging hormones."
"He's not a stereotype." Marissa scoffed. "You shouldn't talk about him like that."
"I know, Mrs. MacGregor." Leila grinned. "Your husband's a total sweetheart to you."
Marissa flushed and threw a roll of tape at Leila who was able to dodge it with a cheeky laugh.
"But you get what I mean." Leila chuckled. "And Spencer's the oh-so lovable man-child that all the girls want to coddle and play around with. The only one who seems oblivious to his charms is that pretty little friend of yours."
"Veneta." Marissa nodded in agreement.
"Well, I do suppose Ezra's probably the most well-known and desired." Leila stated. "But he's kind of hard to approach. Especially as boyfriend-material."
"That he is." Marissa replied with a shake of her head.
"Which is why you're so impressive." Leila said playfully. "You exceeded my expectations and tamed St. Jude's beast. Of course, he also tamed you too; the lovely man-hating virgin."
Marissa made a face. "Thanks for turning my life into an MTV special."
"Always a pleasure." Leila bent over in a semi-bow, not even bothering to stand up. "I, personally, would go for Spencer. He's sweet and so fun."
Marissa shot her a cautious look. Leila caught it.
"But I won't." Leila reassured. "For your friend's sake. Besides, it seems like Spencer's easy, but he's a difficult one to win over emotionally."
"And what about Owen?" Marissa asked. Leila shrugged.
"Like I said, it's difficult to compare the three because they're so different. They all have certain demographics that make up their respective fan clubs. Their popularity is accounted for by different reasons."
"No, I mean," Marissa leaned in to speak more quietly. "Would you ever go for Owen?"
Leila looked startled, her smile falling from her face. She blinked wide grey-green eyes. Because of their close proximity, Marissa could see that they were really grey with undertones of pale green, and her lashes, although darker than her hair colour, were a similar shade of reddish-gold.
"Owen?" Leila laughed, eyes suddenly crinkling in her typically playful expression that Marissa was starting to see as a trademark of the redhead. "No way!" She waved off.
"You've known him since junior high, right? And you must know him pretty well to call him 'Owen-baby'." Marissa pointed out with a frown.
"Not at all." Leila shook her head. "We were in the same classes a couple of times since eighth grade, but we've only exchanged pleasantries. And I only call him that because he's such a stick-in-the-mud."
"He's not that uptight." Marissa grinned.
"Okay, not now, he isn't." Leila grinned back. "But back then, he was the sweet kid who would call teachers 'ma'am' and 'sir'. Aaand," her cheeks dimpled wickedly. "I was a bit of a bully at the time, so…just a habit now, I guess."
"So, he's not your type?" The truth was, Marissa was just looking to set up all of her single friends together. Just because. She wasn't really trying to set Owen up to compensate for her guilt, or anything. Or whatever. Really. She just thought the he and Leila looked nice together and would be compatible.
"He's sweet. But I think he's too good for me." Leila shrugged. "I'm probably not his type anyway." She spoke lightly, completely without bitterness or hidden emotions. Marissa frowned. Her indifference indicated a lack of interest.
"He likes his girls blonde and innocent, am I right?" Leila half-joked. "I can't compare."
"I don't think he's the type to judge like that." Marissa protested.
"Oh, I wasn't saying that." Leila agreed seriously. "It's just that a lot of girls have liked him over the years, but he's only dated…" she paused to look up thoughtfully. "Like two or three, I think? And you were his most recent. He's really level-headed and not flighty at all when it comes to a lot of things, so I think he looks for that in a girl. So I was surprised that you guys only lasted a week or two." Marissa cringed.
"Yeah, it was mostly my fault." She admitted quietly, letting her head drop.
"You shouldn't feel so guilty about how you couldn't reciprocate his feelings. You couldn't possibly have been able to help that." Leila patted her gently on the shoulder. "Although you should feel a little bad about using him to get back at Ezra." Marissa's head darted up at that.
"How did you know that?"
"Oh please." She snorted. "Everyone in the school was watching you and Ezra, from September onwards, like a weekly soap opera. It was incredibly entertaining. Like unbelievably entertaining."
"Well, thanks for that, Leila." Marissa deadpanned.
"Don't worry." Leila smiled. "I think Owen knew he couldn't have had you from the start. Besides," she leaned in slyly. "My sister has a bit of a crush on him, so he'll have his little heart mended soon enough."
Marissa scoffed in amusement. "Is she anything like you?"
"Oh, not at all." Leila shook her head. "Carol's really sweet. She's the innocent type like you, so I think Owen might end up liking her back."
Marissa raised an eyebrow, as Leila clasped her hands together delightedly, cooing.
"Oh, my baby sister! She's so cute! She's super pretty (although not as pretty as you, I guess)," Leila made a sour face here. "But prettier than me! She's smart, athletic, good at violin, and she's so mature despite being only a sophomore!" Leila continued to fawn over her sister with such adoration that Marissa had to feign a gag.
"My God, Leila." Marissa scrunched up her face in disgust. "Do you have some kind of weird sister-complex?"
"Of course I do!" Leila declared, without an ounce of shame. "She's perfect."
"I feel like I wouldn't like her." Marissa replied. Leila began to squeak in an extremely aggravated manner, that Marissa couldn't help but laugh. Her guilt about Owen had eased a little and she was grateful to Leila for making her feel better. When she turned her head, her eyes met Owen's across the gym. She shot him a friendly smile which he returned with a nod, some sort of understanding passing between the two.
All of a sudden, the gym doors burst open, and an excited Asian girl bounced in, followed by four other people. Everyone in the gym turned to look at them.
"Student council here, reporting for duty!" Yura cried out. Behind her was an embarrassed Bradley, a plain-ish pretty brunette, an extremely beautiful brunette that Marissa recalled Ezra had shared a kiss with (she narrowed her eyes at this), and an unflappable Ezra.
"Oh hell." Marissa muttered, happiness and annoyance mixing inside her stomach, making her feel a little nauseous.
"Don't you mean 'oh heaven'?" Leila teased, tilting her head subtly at Ezra.
"Your corny jokes should be laid to rest." Marissa cut her eyes at the thoroughly entertained redhead. She was practically humming with delight, almost like someone who was getting a chance to tune into her favourite soap.
"Only if you give me something to enjoy myself with." Leila sang out.
"Maybe you should experience some high school drama firsthand." Marissa threatened half-heartedly.
"You're going to regret saying that."
"Oh…I don't know…" Leila grinned. "Your life seems pretty fun."
Marissa shot her an acidic glare.
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