Pairing: Ben Norfolk and Olivia Grange
Timeline: Six months after the end of Better Together
More than Anyone
For some reason, the instant Ben and Olivia meet, they hate one another. Every time they're in the same room, all they seem to do is fight. But according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, hot hate is twin brother to hot love.
Chapter One – An Unhappy Birthday
She was the type of person who always tried to pinpoint moments in her life that could be considered the type of moments which changed the direction everything was going.
For Olivia Grange, looking back, one of those very distinct moments happened for her on her birthday. And it just so happened to be a birthday she had no desire to celebrate due to the foul mood she couldn't shake herself from.
She did not need a reminder telling her that she was now yet another year older and had accomplished none of the goals she had set for herself when she had been much younger and far more naïve.
Her friends teased her for it but Olivia always made lists. It could almost be considered a nervous habit of hers. When some bit their fingernails or cleaned their homes in a frenzy, Olivia made lists and almost out of any topic. She had an entire shelf of her bookcase in her apartment filled with composition notebooks filled with nothing but her lists. Lists on rare words or quotes or random facts that she had read in this or that.
But the list that depressed her the most, especially on days such as her birthday, was her aspiration list.
It was almost eight o'clock and the entire sixteenth floor of Lane Magazine was deserted, all except Olivia's office. And it was sitting at her desk, the small lamp providing the only light, that she stared at her aspiration list, worn and creased from being folded and then unfolded so many times.
She sighed, leaning back in her chair and turning it around so she could look out her window at the surrounding Chicago skyscrapers. She didn't have to look at what she had wanted out of life back when she was twenty years old and had written the list. It had been memorized long ago.
She and her best friend, Violet Cross, formerly Littleton before she got married, had been studying in the library for finals before winter break during their sophomore year of college. Suddenly, Olivia, completely frustrated with having to learn intro. to psychology, decided that she needed realistic goals for herself instead of just passing her classes.
And she had even given herself an expiration date. She was to accomplish all five of the goals listed by her twenty-fifth birthday- one for each year.
Olivia looked down at the list in her hand, almost tempted to rip it up and forget about it all for good. Today was her twenty-seventh birthday and she hadn't been able to check off one of the things. To say it was just a little bit depressing was quite an understatement.
1. Fall in love and be loved
She had thought that that would be the easiest one of all to achieve, mostly because she had thought that she was already in love.
It was with, however, one of her best friends, Toby Reese, and he had seemed to make it his personal crusade to date every available and slightly attractive girl in the city, completely ignoring the fact that Olivia pined for him. She liked to tell herself that he didn't know of her feelings for him but after eight pathetic years of being in love with him, she knew, unfortunately, that she had made herself quite obvious.
No one could possibly be that blind. Not even Toby.
Everyone – mainly Violet and their other best friend, Harry, had told her to move on for he would never see her as anything other than a friend but she couldn't help herself. She had had feelings for him since college and she couldn't just stop. She wasn't sure that she wanted to. It wasn't that she was pleased waiting on the sidelines, watching Toby flirt or meet the ones he introduced as his girlfriends, but she had always hoped that one day, he would look up and see her there.
It was her unwavering hope that both kept her going and continuously tortured her.
With a slight shake of her head, Olivia folded the list again and turned her chair back towards her desk. Toby and Harry had wanted to take her out to Humpy's, the bar they frequented every weekend, and some week nights, but Olivia had lied and said that she had more work to do before she left the office.
The truth was she had finished by five o'clock but out there in the world was her birthday and in her office, it could not exist if she didn't want it to. And she certainly did not want it to exist, let alone celebrated.
Some of the other women in the office wanted to get her a cake at least but she had refused them. Plenty of people didn't celebrate their birthdays and Olivia didn't necessarily see cake being shoved down their throats.
She turned to her computer and clicked on the mail icon, finally giving a small smile upon seeing that Violet had e-mailed her. Opening it, she was hit with a sudden wave of longing. She missed her best friend and wished for nothing more than to have her back. Six months earlier, Violet had gotten married and moved to London with her new husband and though the two women talked to one another at least four times a week, Olivia still missed her horribly.
But she did have something to look forward to. Violet was pregnant with her first child and she had been begging with Olivia to come and visit her, which Olivia had finally agreed to and would fly to England the next month. Just thinking about it, her stomach already began to clench into a nervous knot. She absolutely despised flying.
"Hey, Livi," Violet wrote. "HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I'm sorry but it had to be said. I know that you're probably sitting in your office, avoiding the world until midnight when it is no longer your birthday but please. Get up, go out, and celebrate. You're twenty-seven, not dead. That is reason enough to have a good time. And please, Livi. Throw that list out. It's not healthy. I miss you so much and cannot wait to see you. Love, Violet."
Olivia sighed, clicking the close box and then shutting down her computer down entirely. She supposed that it was time to go home. She would continue to ignore the voice-messages that Toby and Harry were constantly leaving for her on her cell phone and would simply go home, eat some Oreo cookies and watch some movies.
By doing nothing out of the ordinary, it made it seem as if it was any other day.
Her neighborhood was a quiet middle-class one on the northwest side of the city near Wicker Park with rows of two-story brownstone houses lining the streets. Olivia had to pinch her pennies every month to afford rent but it was worth it. She loved where she lived and had no desire to move to some cramped, over-priced studio apartment anywhere else in the city.
"Thank you," Olivia said quietly to the driver as she handed him the money and stepped out of the cab.
It was a silent and dark night. Thunder rumbled in the distance and Olivia was thankful that she had gone home instead of to the bar. Getting soaked was not something she wanted to suffer through.
She crossed the street, her high heels tapping on the asphalt and echoing throughout the still air, her hand digging through her purse in search of her keys. She could have sworn she had put them in the small change purse but they weren't there.
As she continued the search, she didn't see where she was walking and tripped over the bottom step leading up to her front door and before she could balance herself, she fell forward, banging her knees on the stone step. She cried out in pain and managed to sit down on one of the steps, gingerly bending her knee to look at the damage.
She almost laughed and would have if the pain wasn't so blinding. Tears stung her eyes. Her knee had gashed open and blood was slowly trickling down her leg.
"Perfect," she murmured.
She began to dig through her purse again for Kleenex, wondering if she would be able to bear the pain long enough to get up to her apartment.
God, she hated birthdays and at the moment, she now hated everything else as well.
She sniffled and wiped at her cheeks with her fingers. She couldn't help it though. She cried and once she started, she couldn't seem to stop. She didn't care who saw her or who heard her. It was her birthday and damn it. She was going to cry if she wanted to.
There she was, on her twenty-seventh birthday with nothing to show for herself, with her knee bleeding and tears streaming down her face. She was certain that the day couldn't get any worse for her.
But, of course, she was wrong.
Her heart stopped beating in her chest for a moment.
"Great," she mumbled to herself.
She recognized that voice even without having to look up. There was only one person she knew who spoke with a hint of a Scottish accent and he was certainly the last person she wanted to see with herself in such a condition.
"What are you doing?"
She looked up at him, standing in front of her and having a look of actual concern in his eyes as his eyes stared at her tear-stained and flushed face then moved down to her knee. Before she could open her mouth to say something, a witty comeback of sorts, Ben Norfolk kneeled down in front of her and she jumped slightly when he touched her leg lightly to inspect her knee.
"Ben..." she began to say but she choked on the tears as she began to cry again.
Her knee was throbbing and she prayed she didn't need stitches. That's just how she wanted to end the day, sitting in an emergency room with some intern wet behind the ears stabbing a needle into her.
He looked at her and for a moment, Olivia couldn't breathe. She had known him for almost a year and yet, she had never noticed how blue his eyes truly were. They were so deep, it was almost a sapphire color.
Though she and Ben did not get along, she couldn't deny the fact that he was quite handsome. His best friend, Jamie Cross, had married Violet so the two had been forced to know one another though their first meeting had been anything but exceptional. They had fought and butted heads almost immediately and every time afterwards, they always picked fights with one another.
So, now, Olivia was just a little unsettled with Ben so close to her without any snide remarks and looking at her knee as if he genuinely cared that she was sitting on a flight of steps, crying and bleeding.
Ben didn't say anything. He simply took the Kleenex balled in her hand and gently applied it to her knee, adding pressure. She gasped at the blast of pain and clenching her eyes shut, her hands flew to his shoulders to grasp. She needed to hold onto something and he seemed to understand this for he didn't comment on it.
Her breath caught in her throat when he lightly blew on the cut, as if trying to soothe the pain, but then he pushed the Kleenex to the cut again and she flinched. She tightened the grip on his shoulders and forced herself to focus on something, anything else than the throbbing pain in her knee.
She decided that looking at Ben was the only viable option. "You cut your hair," she blurted out before she could stop herself.
And he had indeed. His dark hair used to be grown out quite shaggy but now, it was shaved close to his head. She hated to admit it but he looked better.
Ben looked at her and gave his patented smirk. During their first meeting, she had threatened to slap the smirk off his face which only made him laugh at her.
"And you cut your knee," he replied. "Are you drunk?"
Her spine stiffened at the question, warning bells ringing in her head, telling her to keep her guard up. Ben was the only person she knew who enjoyed sparring with her. It was as if getting a rise out of her brought him joy.
"Surely, Ben, you're used to being with drunk girls. Do I look drunk?"
He smirked, shaking his head slightly before looking back down at her knee. "Were you coming or going?"
The question confused her for a moment then she shook her head slightly once she understood. "Coming. I just got home from work."
He seemed surprised with that. "It's almost eight-thirty."
She shrugged. "I had some stuff to finish up that I didn't want to deal with tomorrow. Have you never worked overtime before?"
Ben shifted at the question, as if the topic of her job made him uncomfortable. She had no idea why it would though. She was a copy editor- not exactly the most glamorous job in the world though she could not complain.
"I assume you live on the second floor," he said and she nodded. "Of course you do." He was silent for a moment, thinking and rubbing a hand over his head. "Okay. It's gonna hurt like a bitch to get up there," he told her as if she hadn't known or hadn't thought about that already.
"No shit," she muttered and he smiled.
"Do you have your keys?" He asked and sighed when she gave him an odd look. "I'm going to carry you up to your apartment and you need to open the doors for me," he explained slowly as if speaking to a child.
"You are NOT going to carry me," she informed him firmly but even as she said the words, she knew that he had a point.
She was still bleeding and she didn't want to think of how much pain it would be to get up the stairs, putting weight on her injury. She needed a bandage quickly so hopping her way up wasn't really a realistic option either.
"Okay, brilliance," Ben sighed again. "What is your suggestion?" She glared at him and he shook his head slightly. "I just want to get you up to your place and my mom would kill me if she found out that I left a hopeless, bleeding hysterical girl alone outside her building in the middle of the night."
"I'm not hysterical," she snapped. "OW!" She cried out as he pushed the Kleenex against her knee and she tightened her hands on his shoulders in a death grip. "What the hell was that for?" She nearly shouted at him, tears spilling down her cheeks.
"See?" He said, almost smiling but controlling himself, secretly hoping he hadn't hurt her too badly by proving his point. "You are too hysterical," he pointed out and at that moment, she wanted nothing more for her birthday than to slap him. "Come on." He stood up and then before she could demand of him to put her down, he scooped her in his arms, lifting her up easily enough. "I'm not the kind of guy to bring further harm to an already injured girl."
"Wow. And they say chivalry is dead," she snapped and he grinned, almost laughing.
The rest of the trip up to her apartment was silent as she only directed him with points of her finger. She noticed that he smelled of soap and beef stroganoff. Interesting.
And she was surprised by how firm his body seemed to be. He carried her as if she weighed nothing at all, which surprised her. Her older sister, Sophia, was always telling her that she could stand to lose a few pounds and Olivia had always believed her. Violet had been a dietician and Olivia had asked her for her help more than once but she had always been refused, Violet saying that she was perfectly healthy at her current weight.
Ben stopped at her door and waited patiently as she unlocked it. He carried her inside and finally set her down on top of her kitchen counter. She stared into his eyes as he brushed the hair out of her face and was surprised when she saw something she had never seen there before. It almost looked like concern but that was impossible.
She was fairly certain that Ben hated her. She had overheard him say as much to Jamie on more than one occasion so she didn't understand why he was being so gentle with her now, or even sticking around for that matter.
"I need to clean this up for you," he said softly. "Where's your bathroom?"
She pointed down the hallway. "The door on your right. Everything should be in the medicine cabinet above the sink," she said and he nodded his head.
He opened his mouth, as if to say something, but then decided against and turned to follow her directions.
She sighed heavily. What the hell was going on? This was not at all how she pictured the evening going. Never in her wildest dreams did she ever include Ben Norfolk in any sort of plans she made for herself. She didn't even understand what he was doing walking around in her neighborhood in the first place.
Noticing that the red light of her answering machine next to her on the counter was blinking, she hit the button and listened to the tape rewind itself to the beginning. As the first message began to play, Ben reentered the kitchen, bandages and antiseptic in hand.
"Happy birthday, Liv!" Harry shouted through the phone, the noises of Humpy's distinct in the background. "Now get your ass over to the bar because you need to get drunk!"
Ben looked at her but she avoided his eyes. She did not want him to know it was her birthday. Ben seemed to realize her lack of enthusiasm over the occasion and instead, pulled a chair out from the table and sat down in front of her. She breathed a little heavier as he slowly removed her high heels, dropping the pair to the floor, and then carefully rested her foot on his thigh.
She felt his fingertips on her calf and her foot and she felt goose bumps flesh across her skin.
"It's your birthday?" He asked and she nodded her head, jumping slightly and biting down on her lower lip as he applied the antiseptic to the cut, cleaning it and making it sting like hell. She blinked quickly to keep from crying again. "Happy birthday," he said softly.
"Thanks," she whispered, clutching the edge of the counter so tightly, her knuckles were turning white.
"Hello, Olivia. It's your father," the next message played. "Please call me whenever you get this. I need to speak to you about this trip you have planned. I don't see why you refuse to let your sister come with you. You know she has always wanted to see England and this would be the perfect opportunity for her. Call me back. And happy birthday."
Olivia sighed, hitting the delete button. She did not need to save that message. Her father sometimes infuriated her. SHE had been the one to always want to go to England. She had been in love with the romantic notion of traveling. Sophia had only wanted to go to London when Olivia said that she was going to be visiting Violet and Jamie next month.
It had been like that for their entire lives. Olivia had never had anything of her very own. Sophia never let her. She loved her sister. She really did but sometimes, most of the time, she wanted something that she didn't have to share.
Ben ripped opened the bandage and blowing once more on the cut, covered it and smoothed it over. "All done," he announced, patting her foot before removing it from his leg. "Here."
He stood up and taking her hands, he helped her down from the counter back to her feet. She swayed for a moment as she tried to adjust her weight so not too much of it rested on her injured knee and Ben gripped her hands until he was certain she was good and balanced.
They were silent for a few moments as they stared at one another. He was still standing so close to her, she had to tilt her head back slightly to meet his eyes and she, once again, wondered how she had never noticed how beautiful his eyes were.
She shook her head slightly. This was Ben Norfolk, her unspoken bane of existence. They had only tolerated one another because of Violet and Jamie but now, they weren't even living in the same country anymore, meaning Olivia didn't have to put up with Ben anymore.
He probably felt the same thing for he jerked away suddenly as if her mere presence sickened him.
"I gotta go," he announced, already moving towards the door. "Watch your step from now on. I'm not too keen on playing Florence Nightingale."
Before she could even open her mouth to respond, he was already gone, closing the door behind him. She stared at the door, wondering why he had to get the hell out of there. And then she wondered why she even cared that he had left. She didn't want to put up with him. He infuriated her.
But yet she continued to stare at the door.
"Thank you," she said quietly to nothing but an empty, dark apartment.
A/N: As always, thanks for reading and if you want, let me know what you think of this first chapter.