All's Fair in War and Hallways

Chapter 17

Sucking Out the Poison

As soon as I get into my car I gun it. I'm not too sure how much time I have left before Tommy decides to high-tail it out of Alex's and I'm not willing to obey traffic laws only to potentially miss seeing him. I can't believe Tommy decked Nick. A part of me wants to squeal and fist bump him and another part wants to check out the shiner situation that Kaleigh was talking about. But that part of me is quickly squashed down as I remember Jasmine's infuriating little poster and Tommy's stoic face.

I all but peel into Alex's driveway and make a dash for his front door. As soon as I lay my hand on the knob the door is pulled open and I jump back. Tommy is scowling at me and I gulp. All of a sudden, the anxiety I hadn't been thinking about rushes at me full force. What the fuck was I supposed to say to him now? I barely have time to close my gaping mouth before Tommy grabs my wrist roughly and growls, "Let's go."

I take one peek behind his shoulder and see a struggling Alex holding back Nick whose face is about ten shades of red and yelling some particularly loud expletives. I feel like I'm in the middle of a circus act but Tommy doesn't even give me time to agree and before I know it, he's pulling me across the driveway to his car. I half open my mouth to protest but he yanks open the door and glares at me, almost daring me to defy him. "Get in," and his voice is all steel. I settle myself neatly into the seat and he slams the door shut behind me. At this point Nick has successfully made it to the doorway and glowers at the both of us nestled safely into Tommy's car. I hastily put on my seatbelt, a little intimidated by the force of Tommy's anger. It's not something I quite thought I was prepared to deal with.

We swing out onto the road and it seems impossible but Tommy drives faster than me. I try and place my hand on his arm if only to caution him to slow down but he pulls his arm just out of reach. "Please. Don't. Touch. Me." This is said through clenched teeth, and I watch his jaw harden. I raise both my hands in mock defeat and place them down by my side. He watches me out of his peripheral vision and I can see the tension drain only a little bit. "You need to tell me what the hell happened this morning. Now."

I want to swallow the entire events that have transpired in the last twenty-four hours. Just shove them into my mouth and chew, and then wash it all away with a nice glass of wine. But I'm a big girl now, and it's time to start cleaning up my mistakes. I turn towards him slightly and he tenses again. I sigh, feeling only a little hurt. It's not like I'm going to jump his fucking bones. I genuinely do want to explain.

"Where should I start?"

"With the fucking poster show. Did Nick really drive you home the night after the party?"

"And you hooked up with him after you had told me that you weren't going to keep playing the sick little game you two are involved in?"


"So two hours after I tell you that you mean something to me, you find it perfect timing to hash up the past with Carroway and basically face fuck him against your front door?"

"Tommy, I didn't—"

"Yes or no Natalie. I don't want your word play making this messy or your explanations. I just want the facts, and then I'll decide just what the hell I want to do with them. Thanks." I feel myself bristling, and remind myself that this isn't his fault. He's a casualty of war and I need to start making amends, treating the wounded.

"We kissed. He asked for a second chance. I told him no, that I was with you and that whatever we were doing was ending. Then. There." Dimly, I become aware that Tommy has stopped the car and we are parked outside of my house. He cuts the engine but doesn't move to get out of the car. What is it with me and fucking cars lately? He finally looks me in the face for the first time since I hunted him down at Alex's. His eyes are still full of fury but also undoubtedly, hurt. I want to squish up inside myself but instead I force myself to answer questions he hasn't even begun to ask.

"I cannot control what happened in the past, I can't control the fact that I can't shake it from still catching up with me. I can't protect you from Jasmine, Nick, or myself. But you have to believe that I never meant for you to get caught in the cross-fire." I take a deep breath, because it looks like he's about to interrupt me again and I need to get all this shit out now. Before it's way too late.

"You were not supposed to happen to me Tommy Blake. You were not a part of the plan. You were not accounted for, and you somehow slipped through the cracks. In-between the bullshit and the plotting and the insanity that is my drama-soaked world you somehow fell through." I twist my fingers into themselves, feeling utterly unlike myself. But the words don't stop, I have quite possibly never been this honest before. "I wish I had known. I wish I had anticipated you. Then maybe I could've stopped everything much sooner. Before we got too real with each other, before I was too deep into the destruction I always seem to leave behind. I don't have any excuses for what happened. I am a terrible person, but in my defense I told you that coming into this."

He sighs, a great heaving noise that sounds like he's on the verge of imploding. His voice is quiet though, "Its so hard to hate you. I must be the most pathetic person in the world. I should want nothing to do with you. And a part of me does, actually. A part of me wants you as fucking far away from me as possible." He lets out a dry laugh but it falls short in the air between us. I turn my head away.

"But another part of me knows this is only half your fault. Nick knew how I felt about you. From day one. He just didn't give a fuck. If anything, it made him even crazier over you. If you were untouchable before, you suddenly turned forbidden. But maybe that's why you do what you do. Maybe that's why you tear down the things you love, because you know it deep down too. You are broken, and I was never going to be the person to fix you."

He stops for a minute, tilts his head back and his eyes widen as if he has figured out some great life mystery. Whatever it is, I'm not sure I want in. He tilts my head to face him, his grip is almost hard on my chin but I don't flinch. "Isn't that it? The person you hate the most is the only one who could heal you. Its fucking despicable, but it is, what it is." He lets go, slumps into his seat. "You will never stop being his fucking girl Natalie. Whatever delusions you guys have spun together, no matter what you may want, you will never be clear of him. He's your fucking antidote and drug all mixed up into some sort of fucked up cocktail of bullshit and lies and hurt." He lets out a breath of air. "I can't compete with that."

I can't respond. Can't think to fathom words that will pin this back together but I try. I feel like he deserves more than a broken down confession in his garage but I am out of everything except myself. I toughen up.

"You are right. Almost. Maybe I thought I was better than that situation. But I wasn't, I'm not. I can't apologize for Nick, only for me. And I don't deserve that out of you, but I'm telling you anyway. I shouldn't have used you. It shouldn't have been you. Or anyone. I care for you too much now. Guess I didn't show that well."

"No," he bites out, "Not even a little. Now I guess I'm feeling bitter after all." I reach for the door handle, assuming he's as done with me as I am about the whole sorry situation but then he says, "I know."

My fingers squeeze the metal handle and I gulp something back. Fear, maybe.

"You know, what?"

"Your deal with Matthews. He just couldn't wait to tell anyone within hearing range all about his to-be bout with Natalie Camden."

"I was never going to—"

"That, at least I know. Which is why I hadn't said anything, but I'm not an idiot. I know you didn't have any intentions of easing up on Nick just yet…I guess a part of me just hoped it would finally flush it out of your system."

"I was planning all of that before we even started talking. The timing was just really horrendous. For all of this."

"I need some space from you," he asserts. I feel the whisper of a smile twist my lips sardonically.

"You're breaking up with me." I deadpan. The look he gives me makes me want to shrivel into some lost sad piece of myself.

"I never had you in the first place Natalie. But maybe I just liked the illusion and the glimpse of what it might have been like." He motions towards the door, and I promise myself I will never again let a boy drive me home. I'm tired of being dismissed.

"You deserved better Tommy. I hope you find it." He inclines his head but doesn't say a word, choosing to stare out in front of him instead. I take that as my cue, watching as his car departs from my driveway for the last time.

Inside my house is pandemonium as I dodge a falling stiletto. Above me, on the landing Cassandra is screaming, her hair half in rollers and her slutty red robe draped precariously over one shoulder. My father is taking the brunt of the attack below, dodging a particularly pointy Manolo as it whizzes past his ear. Homegirl is seriously off target but the madness in her eyes is enough to keep me firmly planted in the foyer.

"Dad, what the actual fuck!" I yell, over her screeching and ever so often wails of "You bastard!" and "I gave you the best two years of my life." But it doesn't take a psychic to understand the situation by far. Cassandra has found out the inevitable and most horrifying truth of her young life: her free ride is over. Daddy was becoming a daddy once more. I try to hide my smirk, if only out of respect for the man in question who is watching his little investment hurl thousands of dollars worth of shoes at his head. She turns her rage at me when I finally can't hold in my snort.

"And you! You little bitch! You've been waiting for this moment ever since I moved in!" Her mascara runs in tracks down her face, while the red splotches on her cheeks dance with the maddening twitch of her mouth gaping open in accusation. She points one fine acrylic nail at me. "You did this!"

I cross my arms and appraise her, head to toe, wishing to hell I had the satisfaction of telling her that I indeed had been the cause of her ruin. As it is, I am only slightly less disturbed than her by my mother's new baby bump. Instead I shake my head. "Oh this is far too good and beyond me darling. Maybe if you checked Daddy's flights out to California instead of yours to Milan then this wouldn't have happened. Can't say I'm entirely disappointed if it means it gets rid of your disgusting face creams on the vanity." She snarls at me, a full-range baring of her teeth that makes even me take a hesitant step back. Not only is homegirl losing her shit, it seems as though she is a nanosecond away from homicidal.

Thank God my father manages to regain his manhood and bellow out an: "ENOUGH!" He loosens his tie as we both stare at him in semi-amazement. Ten points to Father figure for getting a grip on his balls. He continues, maybe surprised at himself at this point and barreling forward before his bravado backfires. "Goddamnit Cassandra, you will stop this nonsense immediately or so help me God…" And even I know the effect of the ever powerful God incantation followed by dramatic pause. I never know exactly what 'So help him God' will help him do but it sets the mood fantastically and Cassandra crumples into a heap of her own patheticness, full-on sobbing into her hands.

As I peek around the corner I see Tammy sitting on the kitchen island chowing down on some Chex Mix. Oh I know, Tammy. Way too effing good to miss. Father Dearest takes Cassandra's fall as a cue to toe his way past the fine Italian leather assortment on the floor and take the steps to gather his immature and soon to be ex-wife in his arms.

I really don't need to witness the aftermath now that I've witnessed the Fall. However, it doesn't stop me from effectively bending down and snagging the Hermes scarf that Cassandra so generously flung off the balcony. I crumple it into my hand and continue into my room.

Her meltdown comes as somewhat of a blessing to me in this harrowing time. I feel like I should be falling to pieces myself now that Tommy has found out the two-timing back-stabbing bitch I am. But when I close my eyes its not only Tommy's torn eyes that I see but also flashes of skin.

Of Nick sliding his hands up my skirt by the lake. The way his fingers dug into my thighs, the way my legs splayed open, helpless, wanting. I feel the shudder run down my body, take a shaking hand and smooth it over my collarbone, tracing the invisible bites left on my skin. The flashes of heat remind me where his teeth pressed, where his tongue rolled over. I curl my fist. This only ends one way. I've been so stupid. So utterly naïve and scared. But I'm not anymore. Years of war and mayhem and idiocy have led me to this stunning revelation.

The way to get over Nick Carroway was not to get under somebody else. But to get under him. My thoughts, my body, my sanity might just be saved if I finally had what was forbidden to me. I would finally get him out of my system by letting him into mine. It had to happen. It was the solution to end all solutions. To stop the obsession and the chaos and the heartbreak. I was going to have sex with Nick Carroway. I was going to own him body and mind.

Granted, playing the hot and cold game for the past few years has doubtless made Carroway incredibly suspicious of me and my motives. I couldn't approach this task straight on—but it really wasn't that hard to get him going. Though, after things with Blake I knew he would be even more wary around me. That's if he even let himself be around me at this point.

No, facing him straight on with a proposition is out of the question. I need a plan. I need to test the waters. I need some recon and for the first time in my life I feel like I really can't tell Mia what I am planning to do. Judgments aside, I think she will seriously kill me. For working so hard to protect my virginity and then plotting to give it to the one asshole who has no business taking it.

In a fucked up sort of way I feel like it goes full-circle. I can continue my life. I can forget about Nick but the past has to be resolved and this seriously is a means to an end.