Sorry this took me a month and a half to do but I've been working full time and moving into my own apartment and then I didn't have internet and it was just a big problem. Thankfully, now there's going to be less of problems, hopefully.
I did make a bit of a character change in this chapter because I've decided that this character was too flat and I wanted to flesh them out a bit. (When I do another edit, which will happen when I'm done with this one, I'm going to do just that from the beginning, rather than halfway through. Sorry if it causes any confusion.)
And in other news, I started a tumblr for my writing, where I'll probably just brainstorm. URL is jennawhitefield.
Thanks to everyone for reading. Special double thanks to Fiery Dancer, edowayne, EatingSherbert, AlpacaOverlord, Aria657, ILoveJesus, and Patcience for your reviews.
Alex woke up to the sound of crunching. When she opened her eyes, confused for a moment because she wasn't in the room where she should have been, she saw Roderick sitting on the edge of the coffee table, watching her while he ate a cereal bar. "You look comfy," he said slowly.
It was actually, surprisingly comfortable. Then she realized that she wasn't actually lying down on the couch, instead there was a hard wall of muscle under her. Mortified, she lifted her head, stared up at Darren's relaxed face.
She'd slept on Darren.
Shocked, she nearly scrambled off of him, but his arms were wrapped tight around her middle and held her there. So she looked at Roderick. "How long have you been sitting there?"
"Long enough to see you nuzzle into him. Good to see that you were so worried about me being a cuddler when you're the cuddler." He took another bite of bar. "I don't think he's going to let you go any time soon."
"Do me a favor and shut up." She pushed hard against Darren's chest, trying to get free, but mumbled something under his breath and rolled so that she was tucked between the back of the couch and his body. There was nowhere to move. She looked at Roderick. "Help me."
"Nope," he got up and walked towards the kitchen area, threw away the wrapper. "I ended up waking up early since I was worried about you. But I'm going to go to bed for another thirty minutes."
Before she could threaten him with death, he was gone and she promised herself that she was going to strangle him. "I hate you," she called after him, and only got a laugh in response until a door closed. Why was he eating cereal if he was planning on going to bed? Maybe he was just torturing her.
The only thing she needed to do was kill either Roderick or Darren. At this point, she wasn't picky about which one.
Still, she thought as she looked up at Darren's face, he'd sat up with her for hours because she was so afraid of going back to sleep. They talked about things that didn't really matter, and things that did. She told him about her dad, and how he was the best man she'd ever known.
He told her a story about his first girlfriend when he was twelve and she was thirteen. Her name had been Shelby and she had broken his heart.
Alex wasn't even sure when she'd fallen asleep, but she was sure that it had happened sometime while he told her about when he'd gotten Jasper the first time. The dog had been a Christmas present and Darren had woken up with a puppy in his bed. That was the best present ever.
Somehow, though, it was really comfortable to stay like this, with him against her so she was tight between him and the back of the couch. When she shifted slightly, trying to put some space between them because she wasn't sure it was a good idea for them to be that close, her leg slid between his so that they were tangled.
He made her feel safe. It was a constant thing. Wherever he was, as long as he was with her, he made her feel safer. Whether she could hear him breathing in the dark from across the room, or if he had an arm wrapped around her, but he made her feel safe. She wasn't sure when she had felt that comfortable with someone other than her family.
"Isn't that something?" she whispered, lifting a hand so that she could brush a finger over one slightly roughened cheek. He mumbled something under his breath and she jerked her hand back. His arms tightened around her, crushing her back against him and she gasped, shocked at the contact of their bodies.
That was different, she thought.
She wasn't sure how long she stayed there, not really fighting the closeness. It felt nice, and right. Still, she jumped slightly when she heard the door behind her open again. There were shuffling steps and the sounds of water filling a glass. Then Ethan stumbled towards the television, turned it on, and turned around.
There was a moment of mortified silence as they stared at each other and the glass slipped from his fingers to fall on the carpet. Water spilled. "Oh, shit," Ethan hissed as he scrambled to pick it up. When he looked back up at her, his eyes were narrowed in a glare. "You look comfortable."
"Roderick said the same thing," Alex told him with a smile over Darren's shoulder. When Ethan didn't smile back, she pushed at Darren's shoulder, figuring that their position was making Ethan uncomfortable. In fact, now that she knew someone was staring at them, she was distinctly uncomfortable.
But Darren didn't let her go. Instead, he actually pressed his face to the top of her beanie. She actually felt herself go pale. So she shoved harder at Darren, but he still didn't let her go. Eyes lifting to Ethan's, she frowned. "Help me up? He won't let go."
He just sat down on the edge of the coffee table. "No. I gotta ask you something and I really don't want you to run away or something." When she opened her mouth, he cut her off. "You'd run away. Don't tell me you wouldn't."
"Will you help me up, then?" It was going to be an uncomfortable question, she could see it.
He nodded, sucked in a breath. "Are you two dating?"
There was no answer to that. "Not really."
The look he gave her was long and then he glanced at Darren. "People who aren't dating don't…" he motioned at them, "…on the couch."
This was horrible. There was a weight on her chest, and it wasn't just the way that Darren was holding her. "But we're not. Not exactly." Were they technically dating, even if she hadn't said yes? They kissed every so often – though now it was getting more and more often – and they talked. They ended up falling asleep together. Maybe they were dating in everything but name.
Suddenly, Ethan sighed, ran a hand through his hair. "Geez, if I thought you were going to look at me like that, I wouldn't have asked." He got up, rubbed his hands together and grabbed Darren's shoulder. Then he yanked Darren off the couch, but because his grip was so tight, Alex ended up going over with him.
She landed hard on top of him, her hands on his shoulders so she could catch herself. Their faces got close…too close.
"Shit," Darren grunted as he woke up, eyes wide and staring up at her. Then he smiled slowly, and he brushed her bangs away from her forehead. "Did you push me off the couch?"
Ethan cleared his throat and Darren's eyes darted over her shoulder and he frowned. "Hey, Ethan."
Feeling awkward, Alex pushed at Darren's shoulders. "Let me up," she hissed. "I've got to use the girls' room." It was a small lie, but anything to get away from this situation.
He loosened his hold on her and she scrambled up, stumbled into the bathroom, where she shut the door and leaned against it. Covering her face in her hands, she sighed, wondering when her heart would stop pounding.
Out in the living area, Darren stayed on the floor, trying to think of anything but the fact that Alex had been completely on top of him just a few moments ago. He looked up at Ethan, tucked his hands behind his head. "She had a rough night. Bad dream."
"And clearly the only way to make it better was to sleep with her." He paused at his choice of words. "Not like that."
"I figured you didn't mean it like that." It was weird. Really weird to be lying on the floor while Ethan was standing and Ethan looked absolutely miserable. Though, Darren thought that he'd feel the same why if he walked into the room and saw Terra snuggled on the couch with a friend. "This okay with you?" Ethan had known Alex first.
"Are you guys dating?"
"I want to. She hasn't gone along with it yet. Though I know she wants to." That was something at least.
Ethan sank down on the couch, rested his head in his hands. "Okay. Guess that's good."
Funny how it sounded like he didn't mean it.
So he'd lied to Alex about going to sleep. They'd looked so cute curled up together that Roderick didn't want to wake them up so he'd sat there and stared for a few minutes while he worked his way through his cereal. Now Alex was comfortable around Darren, so that was a step in the right direction.
Now all he had to do was make sure that they went on a date.
He'd waited until Ethan had woken up and left the room, then bounced up to crouch in front of the door and listen to make sure that he'd be alone for a bit. Once he heard talking, he found his phone, called Catherine.
"Either you're dying or you will be," she grumbled when she answered.
"Alex and Darren were cuddling on the couch." He could barely keep from bouncing, so he danced a bit so no one outside would hear him.
There was silence, then a slow inhale. "They were what?"
"I got up kind of early. She had a nightmare last night and I got Darren because I figured he'd know because I didn't." That would probably eat at him for a while. He'd woken up to her sobbing in her sleep, her hands clenched in the blanket while she murmured Sorry, Ellis, sorry. And when he shook her to wake her, she'd frozen with a look of panic on her face until she saw him and the panic turned to horror. Then she darted from the room.
He wasn't sure he'd ever know how to handle that.
"And he did know?" Catherine asked, in a whisper. "Alright, I'm out of the room."
"That's good. Anyway, so I'm up, I check the room, and she's not there, and I think she's in the gym or something. I get myself some cereal because I'm hungry and go over to the couch, where I think Darren is and I wanted to thank him, and he was on the couch, but Alex was with him all sprawled across his chest like he was super comfortable."
"Seriously?" Catherine laughed. "You're not kidding me?"
He shook his head. "No. But I saw her snuggle into him. When she woke up, she tried to get off him but he wouldn't let her. Then he like rolled over so that there was no way she could get up. I left her there. "
She laughed again. "That's beautiful. So we've got to get her to say 'yes' to that date, and then our work should be done. We're too good for her."
"We really are." Someone knocked at the door and he paused, turned in time to hear Alex murmur his name. He told Catherine that they'd talk later, then dropped his phone on the bed as he walked over to answer the door.
Alex looked up at him. "Hey." After stepping into the room, she shut the door. They stared at each other for a moment. He couldn't tell what she was thinking, but the only thing he could think was the way she looked as she cried and how he couldn't do enough.
It was one thing to plot to get with Catherine, but it was another to look at Alex and remember the way she cried.
Finally, she sighed and looked away. "I'm sorry I woke you up last night."
That made him freeze. "Oh, sweetie," he muttered, reaching out and tugging her against him so he could wrap his arms around her. "Don't apologize for that. It's not your fault. Everyone gets nightmares."
"I still woke you up."
"I'd rather wake up than know that you didn't have anyone." He pulled back, cupped her face. "Which is why I got Darren. I figured he'd be more helpful than me."
She gave him a long look, then frowned. "I don't think he was. I think he just helped in a different way than you would have." Leaning up on her tip toes, she kissed his cheek. "Thanks though."
Not wanting to ask about Ellis, since it was obvious it was a sensitive topic, he stepped back and fell back on the bed while still holding on to her so that she crashed into him. "So if I'd gone after you, would we have ended up like this on the couch?"
It took her only a second to relax against him. "Maybe. I might have not felt as weird."
"I doubt it felt weird."
"Imagine it was you and Tobias."
He thought about it for a moment, figured he liked the image. "We'd probably be naked. To be honest."
Like he wanted, she laughed, then rolled off him. "You're probably right. C'mon, the other two are watching news."
Letting her tug him up, he smiled. "Gross." Then he paused and lightly grabbed her arm to keep her from leaving just yet. "Hey. Um. Also….you know you can talk to me about anything anytime, right? And I really mean anything."
Her eyes went wide before she smiled softly and patted his hand on her arm. "I know."
"Good." He squeezed her arm for a heartbeat before he was out the door to see if they couldn't put the TV on cartoons instead.
Catherine paced back and forth, tempted to text Alex and make sure she was okay. She knew how bad those nightmares could be, but it sounded like Alex had gotten through it. Beyond that, she didn't want to have to say that Roderick had told her.
Alex might realize that they were trying to get her and Darren together. That was something that Catherine didn't want.
Still, if Alex had been sleeping on Darren, then she had to be good. Maybe Catherine could talk to her later, check for herself. That was probably the best course of action.
She jumped, not expecting Terra to come tiptoeing out of the room they shared. "Yeah?"
"Who called?" Her dark hair was a little mussed, but the shadows under her eyes were almost black.
Catherine blinked, immediately worried. "Roderick. Did you sleep at all?"
Shaking her head, Terra went to the kitchen and started the coffee maker. "No. Something's been on my mind and I couldn't sleep and—" she lifted her hands, shrugged. "How bad do I look?"
"Like you didn't sleep." Like the dead.
"Great. Perfect." After getting her drink ready, she turned around to lean back against the counter. Then she gave Catherine a long look. "Hey, how close are you and Alex?"
A tingle went down Catherine's spine. Forcing a smile, she sat down on the arm of the couch. "He's one of my best friends. I mean, you are too, but I knew him first."
That made Terra smile for a second before it slid off her face. "Is he gay?"
Catherine blinked. The laugh bubbled out of her before she could stop it and she almost fell to the ground. "No. No. Trust me – just…no." Before she could stop it, she suddenly thought of the way that Georgia had kissed Alex, and she was laughing even harder.
Narrowing her eyes, Terra waited it out, arms crossed. While Catherine calmed, still giggling behind her hand, Terra took a slow sip. "If he's not gay, then why was he kissing my brother on the balcony last night?"
Her breath stopped in her chest. "What?"
"I couldn't sleep so I went outside for a second and I heard someone talking. I looked over and saw them and Darren like –" She motioned with her free hand, "kissed him. He kissed Alex and Alex went super still and didn't do anything. Then I went back inside before I yelled at them because…he's my brother and I've always thought he was straight and I see him kiss his roommate.
"But you're saying that Alex isn't gay but they were holding hands yesterday. Is he leading Darren on? Is it just sex?"
"They haven't had sex." Catherine knew that for sure. Alex was too calm about everything to have been naked with Darren.
That made Terra freeze. And she gave Catherine a long look. "How would you know?"
"Because Alex would have told me."
"Guys don't tell us everything." She lifted her hand, dropped it. "Darren hasn't told me that he likes Alex. They could've done anything."
Catherine sighed, got up, walked over. Putting her hand on Terra's shoulder, she squeezed. "Trust me, they haven't gone any further than kissing and hand holding. It'll be okay."
"But you said Alex isn't gay." She looked completely miserable.
"He's not." That was true. "It's just Darren. I don't get it. I never would have put them together like that, but they've got a thing."
"A thing. And it's good. It's good for Alex and I really think it's good for Darren. They seem to balance each other out in a way." She grabbed Terra's hands, held them tight. "Trust me on this."
Terra slowly shook her head. "I don't know. I can't see Darren with a guy."
How could she explain it better? "Alex feels safe with Darren."
"So what?" Terra pulled her hands free and turned away to pour herself another cup of coffee. "Why would that make a difference? I don't care how Alex feels." Only she did. Catherine knew that Alex was Terra's friend, too. "I mean, my brother had his tongue in Alex's mouth. Why would I care?"
"Darren used tongue?"
The look Terra shot at her could have killed her. "I didn't stay long enough to check. And I didn't ask them. But they were still kissing."
"Is it really so bad?" When Terra stared at her, Catherine shrugged. "I mean, is it really horrible that Darren might be with a person – even if it's a guy – who makes him happy? You know that he's been happier these last few weeks and less of a stick in the mud. They're not dating right now, they're really just dancing around it, and Darren's the one really pressing for it. Darren cares for Alex."
That made Terra go silent. "It's not that I don't want him happy…." She rubbed at her eyes and sank down to sit on the floor, covering her face with her hands. "Why couldn't he tell me? If he was having issues with his sexuality – and we both know he panicked about it – why couldn't he talk to me? I'm his twin."
Oh, that made more sense. "Terra, it's not like that." She sat down next to her friend and wrapped her arm around Terra's shoulders. "I'm sure it just happened really fast and he didn't know what to do. Because otherwise he would've come to you. You never went to him when you started to have feelings for Thomas. You still haven't talked to him about that."
"That's different. Thomas is his friend –"
"And Alex isn't yours?"
Terra went silent, her mouth shutting with an audible pop. "That's not the point."
"Seems like it is. If Darren knocked on the door right now and told you that he was gay and he thought guys were cute, is it going to change the fact that he's your brother?"
"No." The answer was quiet.
"And if he told you that he and Alex were dating and that they were very happy together, would that be bad?"
Terra closed her eyes, thought about it. Then she slowly shook her head. "No."
"Okay, then." She shook Terra's shoulder. "He'll come and tell you when he's ready, and when he figures it out himself."
"He better. Or I'm going to kill him."
Catherine laughed. "That works. But Alex might be against killing him." Quietly, she reached up to the counter, grabbed the cup of coffee and took a sip before handing it off. "Want to go get some breakfast? We can see the guys and you can see how adorable they actually are together, now that you know that they're a kind of a couple. Trust me, they can't really act like there's nothing happening."
"I caught them holding hands."
"Darren takes care of Alex. It's hilarious because Alex doesn't like it."
Terra chuckled quietly. "That sounds like fun."
One of the doors opened and they both looked up to see Georgia come out of the other bedroom, her hair back in a high bun. "Why are you guys on the floor?"
Suddenly Catherine was reminded of the way that Georgia had kissed Alex before and she smiled. "We're going to get some breakfast. Maybe you can kiss Alex again."
Georgia actually smiled at that and walked over, reached out for the coffee cup, which Terra handed her. "No, I can't. Darren likes him." The second she realized what she said, she paled and her eyes darted towards Terra. "Not that your brother is gay. Well, he might be. I am so sorry. I wasn't going to say anything. I was going to let him tell you."
Shocked so she couldn't find her voice, Catherine didn't say anything. "Darren likes Alex?" she repeated. How had Georgia figured that one out? Unless she'd stepped out to see Darren and Alex kissing, which was unlikely because Terra would have seen her.
"He got all growly when I hugged Alex. He never gets growly with me. And he smiles at Alex a lot. You know, all soft like." She pointed at her face, demonstrated and it was exactly the way that Darren looked at Alex. "I really didn't mean to tell you."
Terra sighed, shook her head. "I know. It's alright. I guess I've just got to wait for him to tell me now." She brushed her hands off on her pants as she stood. "If he ever does."
Reaching out, Georgia grabbed Terra's hands, squeezed them. "He will."
But she glanced at Catherine and Catherine realized that they all thought that he might never bring it up. She was the only one who knew that he probably never would, not until everyone else knew exactly what Alex was.
It didn't snow their last day there. Still, there was white everywhere, and it crunched underfoot as they loaded the buses back up with their bags. Alex helped Catherine since Catherine had ended up filling an entire other bag full of things she'd gotten while shopping during their free hours. "Why'd you buy so much stuff?" she asked.
Catherine shrugged. "Why didn't you?"
"Because I don't need more stuff."
"Everyone needs stuff."
Even as she rolled her eyes, she smiled. "Whatever." They got over to the side of the bus and Catherine grabbed her arm, pulled her close so that no one could see them. She almost slipped, but then she froze when she saw the way Catherine was staring at her. "What? Is something on my face?"
"Terra and Georgia know." She took the bag, shoved in the luggage compartment.
Her stomach dropped. "Know what?"
Catherine paused, then tugged her ear. "They don't know about that. They know that you and Darren are…well, kinda." Her hands locked together and she held them up. "You know."
"I know what?" If they didn't know about the ears, and they didn't know she was a girl, what else was there for them to know?
"I don't know why I try to be subtle with you." Catherine sighed. "They know that you and Darren are almost dating."
That was almost as bad as everything else. "How?" She didn't even know if she and Darren were almost dating. The entire thing was such a mess.
"Terra might've gone out on the balcony and she might've seen Darren's tongue down your throat." She actually laughed when Alex groaned, covered her face with her hands. There was a pat on her head. "It'll be okay sweetie."
Only it wouldn't. So she quietly shook her head.
"Hey. It's okay. Trust me." Hands covered her shoulders, tugged her against Catherine's chest and those hands rubbed her back. "They aren't going to say anything to anyone. Well, Terra's a bit worried that you're using her brother for sex but…"
That made her jerk free. She glanced around them to make sure that they were still alone. "She what?"
"She's afraid that you're taking advantage of him. I told her you couldn't be because well…" she motioned, shrugged one shoulder. "You're you and you can't even hold the guy's hand without freaking out so it's not like you could ever be naked with him."
It might have been true, but that didn't mean she liked it. "So what's she going to do?" What was Georgia going to do? That could make things extremely difficult extremely fast. If she told anyone else, then the rest of it might come out.
Would Darren be alright a rumor started spreading that he might be gay? She didn't want to make him feel any worse. It couldn't be easy for him to wait on her to say yes and yet he still managed to be there for her whenever she needed him. And suddenly she was needing him more and more.
"Oh, she's going to wait it out, wait for him to come out to her." Catherine grabbed her arm, patted the back of her hand. "Georgia is Darren's friend. She's not going to say anything to anyone. Now she's upset with you so she'd tell everyone that you were gay. But because you're gay with Darren, she'll keep her mouth shut." Her smile was mean. "Or I'll fix it."
Unable to help it, Alex laughed. "Thanks."
Catherine nodded, and they went back to the lobby of the hotel. Chaperones were roll calling to make sure that everyone would be getting on the buses, and Alex waved towards Ms. Onslow to make sure that the woman didn't panic. "I'm going to go check in with my teacher," Catherine muttered. "I'll meet up with you guys in a few."
Alex would have nodded, would have said that she'd see Catherine later, but she saw Darren talking with Georgia and her heart stopped. It didn't matter that they were both smiling. So she rushed forward, touched Georgia's shoulder. "Hey, can I talk to you about something?"
Neither of them said anything to her, just stared at her. So she wrapped her hand around Georgia's elbow, tugged her away from the lobby and into a stairwell since no one ever used stairs. "What were you saying to him?"
Georgia blinked. "To Darren? Nothing."
Now that she had Georgia here, she wasn't quite sure what she wanted to say. Too late, she realized that there was nothing she could say to make it better. The only thing she'd been thinking of was to make sure that Darren wasn't going to be uncomfortable. She turned around, pressed her forehead to the cold wall. What was she doing anymore? She was losing her mind.
"Are you okay?" Georgia's voice was quiet, and her touch on Alex's back was soft.
"I'm not dating him." She didn't mean to say it. Georgia's hand moved away and Alex turned. "I'm not dating him."
They didn't say anything for a moment. "Catherine talked to you."
"It doesn't matter if you two are dating. I don't care. I mean, it explains a bit." She held up her hand when Alex opened her mouth. "Don't tell me you aren't together in some way. You are. I have eyes."
"We're not together."
"You both want to be."
It was true, so she couldn't argue. "It's complicated."
There was a quiet laugh. "I bet."
Suddenly Alex felt horrible. "I'm sorry."
"For yelling at you and being rude to you. I can't like you back, not the way you like me, and I can't be sorry for that. But I could have been nicer about it." It was true.
Georgia slowly wrapped her arms around herself. "You could have. But I could have been less crazy."
Wondering if she was going to regret it later, Alex held out a hand. "How about we start over? We'll forget everything else, and just be friends?" It was the least she could do.
For a moment, Georgia stared at the offered hand, then took it. "Just friends. Sounds good." She squeezed Alex's hand for a second before she dropped it.
"Do me a favor?" Alex asked, to be completely sure. "Don't let Darren know that you know that we're…"
"A couple?" Georgia asked slowly, with a smile. When Alex glared, she laughed and hooked her arm through Alex's to lead her out of the stairwell. "Don't worry. I won't. He'll be the only one left in the dark."
She felt that she should be the one to let him know. She owed him that much.
The lobby was emptying out when they made it back, and they fell into the separate lines to file onto the busses. Darren was already on board, a backpack sitting in the seat next to him. The second he saw her, he moved it. For a second, she debated about walking past him and finding another seat so it wasn't completely obvious that they were…whatever.
Then he touched her wrist, lightly, barely, and she was sitting down next to him. "Did Georgia kiss you again?" he asked, quietly.
She smiled. "No. I just had to talk to her about something."
"I'll tell you later," she promised and, remembering what Catherine said, reached and grabbed his hand, fingers tangling together. Quietly, she tucked their hands between the spot where their thighs touched, so anyone walking by couldn't see.
He gave her a stunned look and she smiled as she looked out the window.