Disclaimer: I do not own Facebook or Blackberry. Other rich people own those.
Or, Not My Type
My apologies to Mark Zuckerberg… but Facebook just might have been the worst thing ever created in the past decade.
For one thing, it was barely twenty-five seconds past midnight of the year 2011 and I was already staring a nightmare in the face. A tiny heart symbol, with six unbearable words following it:
—In a relationship with Maja Karlsson—
A strangled noise, sounding much like something a chicken about to be slaughtered would make, ripped its way out of my throat. I sent my Blackberry spinning across the glass table in a futile attempt at escapism. The phone spun into an empty beer bottle and toppled it over with a crash.
"Ah, damn," I said to the room at large. Nobody paid me any attention. My voice had been swallowed up by the music vibrating in the air. Added to that was the cheering of drunken partygoers all around me. I could barely hear myself think, much less speak. I flopped back onto the plushy couch I'd been perching on and exhaled deeply.
This year was going to suck. I could feel a sense of boding evil already creeping into my bones.
"Have you seen?" Someone all but shouted into my ear, making me leap about ten feet high into the air.
"Watch it!" I clutched at my wounded ear, turning to glare the culprit in the face. One of my best friends, Freya, was leaning over the back of the couch. She looked flushed and antsy. Her hands gripped the top of the couch as she pushed herself closer to me.
"Have you seen?" she shouted again. I glared harder, because she had somehow positioned herself such that when she shouted, the sound waves travelled directly into my poor, abused ear. I was going to go deaf at this rate.
What had I just been thinking about this year? Bad omen. Definitely, bad.
"Indoor voice, Freya," I shouted – a little ironically. "And what the heck are you talking about?"
Freya was looking at me with wide, worried eyes. She started speaking again, but this time I couldn't hear her, because she'd apparently decided to take my advice and lower her volume.
"I can't hear you!" I shouted, feeling my throat almost rip from the impact. Gosh, this sucked. My mind made up, I stood up and felt the table for my previously abandoned Blackberry. "Let's go outside."
I saw Freya mouth the word, what?
"Outside!" I punctuated the word with a jab of the finger towards the door.
Freya nodded to show she understood, and I turned away from her to make my way outside, away from the noisy throng.
I'd almost made it out unscathed when the worst thing that could've happened at that moment, happened. Even amidst the crowd of people, I saw the familiar shine of light blond hair and my head turned of its own accord. I felt Freya's hand grasp my upper arm painfully as she tried to redirect my attention towards herself, but it was too late. My eyes locked with the bright blue ones belonging to Siegfried Kloibhofer and my feet froze in their movements.
His eyes landed on me for the barest second before moving to settle at a spot slightly to my left. The only time he had made and held direct eye contact with me was when we had first met, one year ago. He'd stared me down, unsmiling, until I'd looked away. When I'd looked back again, he'd already moved on. After that, tried as I might, I'd never succeeded in getting him to hold eye contact with me again. A part of me knew that I'd failed his test that very first time. He'd probably put me into a box labeled 'not important', together with all the other losers he knew, and shoved it to the recesses of his mind.
Seeing him would usually be the highlight of my day, except this time something had changed. Something within me had shifted, because I now possessed a vital piece of knowledge. I mentally apologized to Mark Zuckerberg and thanked the heavens for the little birdie called Facebook, because if I hadn't already known, the sight of him and Maja Karlsson with their arms wrapped around each other might have given me a cardiac arrest of some sort.
Even so, I could feel my heart bleeding as I looked at the picture they made. They were both blond – tall – beautiful. It was suddenly obviously clear that I had never even been in the running. How could I even begin to compete? For the first time in my life, I felt a wave of claustrophobia rise up in me. Driven by instinct, I turned and bulldozed my way out of the room, dragging Freya with me mostly only because she still wouldn't let go of my arm.
Once outside, Freya's hand fell away, but I didn't stop until I'd walked halfway across the car park and found my car. Freya pulled me bodily away when I reached for the door handle.
"You're not driving," she began fiercely, until she got a good look at my face. "Oh, Cassie…"
"What?" I snapped, swiping at my face with the sleeve of my jacket. Standing out in the cold, I was starting to regret not stopping by the grab my coat before leaving. This was absolute rubbish. I was going to get hypothermia and freeze to a solid death. And all on New Year's Day.
"You're crying," Freya said gently. She grabbed my hand and handed me something heavy. I looked down and saw that it was my coat. It was only then that I noticed that she had her own coat on. At least one of us had been thinking straight.
"I'm not," I said, just to be contrary, before grudgingly muttering a short, "thanks." I struggled into the thick garment and then just stood there, wiping my eyes and looking at Freya.
"I guess it's a bit pointless to ask if you've seen them now," Freya finally said. I watched her breath make cold puffs in the air, and focused on that because I didn't want to think about what she was saying.
"Whatever," I shrugged. I turned away and hugged myself to keep the warm in and the cold out. The weather was really bad; I could hardly feel my nose. I wrinkled it a little just to make sure it hadn't fallen off yet. With my luck this year, it was hard to tell.
"Don't pretend you don't care," Freya said.
I threw up my hands in a gesture of exasperation. "Thanks for rubbing it in my face!" I fumbled with the car keys blindly, because my sight had suddenly gone blurry. When I finally yanked the car door open, Freya stole the keys from my hand and pushed me towards the other side of the car. I grappled with her for a moment.
"What are you doing?"
"You're not driving!"
"I'm not drunk."
"No, but you're heartbroken."
"I'm not heartbroken," I snorted, but I walked around the front of the car to get into the passenger's seat.
After I'd settled down and closed the door, I noticed Freya was on the phone. My car keys hung from the ignition. She hadn't even switched it on. We were just sitting in the unheated car, slowly freezing to death. I slid down in my seat, annoyed.
This annoyance grew when I realized what she was saying into her cell phone.
"She knows. — Yeah, I'm with her… — Nah, we're outside, in the car."
I sat up. "Is that Eric?" I demanded.
Freya glanced at me out of the corner of her eye. She used a hand to cup her mouth to the mouthpiece, as if it would prevent me from hearing what she had to say next. "…I think she's about to flip, just hurry up."
"Stop talking about me like I'm not here!" I snapped.
Freya hung up and we sat resolutely not looking at each other. After a moment, she turned the ignition and the heater started. Finally.
"I saw it on Facebook," I said into the startling silence. Freya forgot that she was avoiding my gaze and looked at me. "Before we saw them just now, I mean."
"Oh." Freya digested that. "When?"
"About one minute past midnight."
She frowned at me, "What were you doing checking Facebook right after midnight?"
"Well," I said pointedly, "not all of us have someone to kiss at midnight. I was bored while you were busy locking lips with Prince Eric."
Freya was blushing a little. "What are you talking about? There was a houseful of hot guys – you could've just grabbed someone randomly."
I grimaced. I was a non-believer of the toad-kissing method. You know, kissing every toad that came along until you found your Prince Charming. Yeah – thanks, but no thanks. I said as much to Freya, who shrugged. Just because it had worked for her, she took it for granted that it would work for everyone. She was one of my best friends, but it was pretty much known that she had been a slut until she'd become friends-with-benefits with Eric, which had eventually turned into a practically-exclusive arrangement. They still vehemently denied being an official couple, but acted like one as far as I knew.
Go figure. I'd never pretended to understand their relationship.
There was another pause, before Freya said, "They've been together since Christmas."
I turned to her so quickly that heard my neck crack. "What? You've known since then?"
"Yeah," she peeked at me, as if mentally preparing to use the self-defense moves she'd learnt in one of her Aikido classes.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked, but half-heartedly. Knowing in advance probably would've spoilt my week more than benefited me. It had probably been a good thing she'd chosen to withhold that piece of information from me.
Freya shrugged. "I didn't want to spoil your Christmas."
I shrugged back. "Yeah, well…" I trailed off lamely.
We lapsed back into silence, and this time neither of us endeavored to break it until the backseat door opened and Eric slid in.
"Hey," he said, rather breathlessly, "what did I miss?"
"You missed me murdering Maja Karlsson and stowing her in the trunk," I said drolly.
"Nice," Eric said. "Do I get to have sex with her corpse before you throw it into the river?"
"Ew," I said. Then again, Maja Karlsson was probably the kind of girl who would still exude sex appeal even in death. Not that I, you know, was imagining her dead or anything. That would be quite evil of me. And Siegfried would be heartbroken. Probably. It was still difficult to imagine having feelings for anyone; he acted so stone-like most of the time.
"She's Swedish, you know," Freya said, as if her almost-boyfriend hadn't been propositioning an imaginary dead body just a moment ago, "I love her complexion."
"Why don't you just keep rubbing it in," I offered. Amazingly icy Scandinavian complexion I had not. I was sunburned in summer, sickly white in winter, but never beautifully fair. Never guys like Siegfried Kloibhofer's type.
Eric chuckled. "Don't take it to heart," he advised, "it's just her way of showing how not jealous she is that I find Maja bangable."
"Bangable," I repeated in a dry tone. Freya wisely remained silent and focused on the road. She had at some point pulled out of the parking lot and was apparently en-route to…
"Wait, where are we going?"
"To my place," Freya said, in a tone of voice that suggested the answer should've been obvious to me. It wasn't.
"The night is still young," Eric interjected, leaning forward to pop his head between the front seats. "The party goes on!"
I reached over and pushed him away, "Put on your seatbelt, idiot!"
Freya didn't say anything, but I noticed how she'd eased up on the gas pedal just the slightest bit. Not unusual for someone else, maybe, but Freya was usually a speed junkie.
Eric stuck out his tongue at me before retreating and a moment later, there was the distinctive click of a seatbelt being fastened. I had a feeling he had noticed Freya's new-found caution in driving, too.
I looked out of the window and rolled my eyes. They were so sickeningly, subtly sweet. It was making my chest squeeze a little.
Then I felt a light touch on my left shoulder blade. I turned to look at Freya, who was looking straight ahead at the roads moving beneath the car. I was just beginning to convince myself that I had been hallucinating until she said, softly, "You'll find someone better, Cassie."
I couldn't speak for a second; my throat seemed to have gotten choked up. I cleared my throat, but when I spoke my voice sounded small even to my ears, "Yeah."
Eric was being uncommonly quiet in the backseat. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw that he was pretending to be asleep so that he could eavesdrop on our girl talk. The slight opening of his left eye gave him away.
Freya and I exchanged a glance, and I knew she'd caught on as well. We shared a small smile.
My eyes caught the bright numbers of the time. It was half past twelve. Thirty minutes into the new year.
"Happy New Year," I murmured. With all that had gone on, I hadn't gotten the chance to greet either of them.
I saw Freya flick me a glance out of the corner of her eye. "This year will be better," she promised.
I turned back to the window. Watching other cars whiz by reminded me of how many more billion people there were in the world other than Siegfried Kloibhofer. There were more fish in the sea. There were shinier fish in the sea. There was always something better.
And as Freya drove on, I could almost reconcile myself to the thought of 2011 being… better.
So that was my New Year's resolution: to move on from Siegfried Kloibhofer. And the best way to get over anything, in my opinion, was to avoid it. After all: out of sight, out of mind – right?
Except it turned out to be harder than I'd thought.
Isn't it annoying how, when you really want to see someone, you can scarcely catch a glimpse of them – and then when you're avoiding that same person, the reverse happens? The gods above must really like a joke.
The joke was on me when I walked into my Fundamentals of Marketing class for the new semester and locked eyes with none other than Maja Karlsson. For a horrible, terrifying moment, the thought of Siegfried being in the same class galloped through my mind, until I realized that the row Maja was sitting in was empty.
I almost vomited from sheer relief.
As I made my way up the aisle, I promised myself that if Siegfried showed up at any point, I would definitely be dropping this class. No big deal – it was only one of the classes I had to take for my minor, after all. How terrible it would be if he were to be taking any of my compulsory Broadcasting modules this semester – I would probably be unable to graduate on time.
I froze in the act of walking up the steps. A glance around the lecture theatre told me that the remaining occupants were all clustered at the back rows, so that meant the only person that voice belonged to was…
I turned to Maja Karlsson and gritted my teeth in a smile. "Hi. Sorry, do I know you?"
It wasn't like I was trying to be rude. I just wanted to get away as quickly as possible. It was really hard to look perfection in the face and know that she had the guy you wanted. And she was really, really pretty. If I hadn't already had feelings for Siegfried, I might have considered developing a girl crush on Maja.
They were going to have such beautiful babies.
Maja smiled, a little unsurely. "You're Cassadee, right? Sieg's friend?"
I had to cough a bit to clear the air from my lungs. Friend? I would hardly have called us friends. Our relationship consisted mostly of me trying to talk to him and him avoiding looking at me while responding with one-word replies. Nope, not fun at all.
But I didn't say any of that. "Er, yeah," I said instead, shifting on my feet, itching to run away. "Call me Cassie, though."
Her smile turned a little steadier. She got up and shook my hand. Her skin was really soft. So was her grip – it seemed like she was the shy type. Who knew? "I'm Maja," she said.
Well. I'd known that.
I tried to go for breezy, "Right. Siegfried's…" And then I realized I couldn't quite say the word.
Maja mistook my hesitation for uncertainty. "Girlfriend," she prompted helpfully.
I could've just slapped her.
"Right," I repeated, trying to smile casually. "That's cool."
Maja nodded, seemingly at a loss for words. We stared awkwardly at each other for a moment.
"Right, I should get going—"
"Do you want to sit together?" she blurted out just as I was preparing to extract myself from the situation.
Damn! And I had been so close, too!
"Uh," I backtracked mentally, "isn't your – uh – boyfriend – joining you?"
Maja looked surprised. "No," she said, in her smooth soft voice, "He cleared this module last semester."
At last, a piece of good news. The relief was what made me smile at Maja and say, "Okay."
Only after I'd sat down next to her that I realized what I'd gotten myself into. Fraternizing with the girlfriend – not the smartest move when you're looking to get over her boyfriend.
How did I get myself into these situations?
We sat in silence for a moment before she, blessed soul, tried to start up a conversation.
"Are you a business major?" she asked. Safe topic, my mind told me. I grasped it like a life raft.
"Oh, no," I said, "This class is for my minor. I major in Communications. Broadcasting." She nodded, and I felt obliged to ask, "And you?"
"I major in Biochemistry," she divulged, "and am also taking a Business minor."
Against my will, I was starting to fall in love with the way she talked. Maybe that was how Siegfried had felt. "I love your accent," I said, a little randomly.
She looked startled, and then ducked her head in embarrassment. "Thanks," she murmured. "I like yours, too."
I had to laugh at that. She was so polite. "So," I started, feeling a little more comfortable, "are you interested in a career in Forensic Science?"
"No," but she had started to smile, a little grin that made me feel like I'd inadvertently reminded her of a fond memory. Her next statement confirmed my suspicion. "But my brother is."
"Your brother?" I was starting to feel a little faint. There were more of those perfect Swedish genes?
Maja's eyes had lit up. I had the feeling she was extremely fond of this brother of hers. "Yes," she said, nodding vigorously, "and he wants to be a forensic scientist."
I was intrigued despite myself. Forensics had always been a subject that interested me. It seemed utterly cool to be able to deduce who the criminal was simply by examining evidence found at the crime scene. Or maybe I had watched too many an episode of CSI.
"He's a Biochem major too?" I guessed, simply from the information that he was aiming to go into forensics. I could be quite the detective, myself.
Maja nodded. "Yes." She checked her watch, a pretty little thing whose brand I could not recognize. "He's taking this class too, but he must have overslept."
I resisted the urge to point out the fact that we were the ones who were freakishly early. We still had fifteen minutes before class officially started. Half of the class wasn't even here yet. "Wait," I said, as another thought struck me. "You major in the same subject, and even take the same electives? You must be really close."
Maja smiled. "Yes, we are," she agreed. "A lot of people comment on that. But I think it's because we are twins."
"Twins," I parroted. "That is so cool." I was starting to get more and more jealous of Maja with each fact she divulged about herself. She had wonderful genes, Siegfried as a boyfriend, and a twin brother. How cool was that?
"He can be annoying sometimes," Maja told me, in the tone of someone sharing a secret.
"Brothers can be." I nodded sagely, even though I didn't have a brother, and therefore no personal experience on the topic. Still, hearing Freya complain about her younger brother time and again had made me a sort of guru on the subject of annoying brothers.
"You have a brother too?" Maja wanted to know.
"Um, no," I said. I should have elaborated, because Maja was starting to look quite confused. Her confusion only lasted for about a second, however, because the next moment she was distracted by something else.
Or more accurately – someone else.
The prodigal brother had arrived.
Maja didn't even need to wave to get his attention. I watched in fascination as he looked up and automatically locked his gaze onto hers like he was a ship and she was the homing beacon. They both smiled at each other and the brother started to make his way up, towards us.
"His name is Anton. He's a little shy with new people," Maja told me in an undertone.
I nodded, but I didn't understand what she was trying to say. Was I supposed to talk to him? Not talk to him? Talk to him but not expect a reply?
He was a blond, too, except that his hair was a little darker than his sister's. And Siegfried's, now that I thought about it. I was getting a little sick of all these blond-haired people gravitating together. Someone had to give us brunettes a chance.
Anton definitely had his sister's genes, even though I did think Maja had gotten the best of it. Where Maja was classically beautiful, Anton was cute… in a boyish, teddy-bear huggable sort of way. He looked a little taller than Maja – his legs were envy-inducing and really long – and had the same enviable bone structure, albeit with masculine tweaks. As he walked up the steps, I saw that he carried himself with a sort of quiet confidence, which was so different from Maja's slight uncertainty and Siegfried's firm self-assertion. Just by that air about him, I could tell he was the total opposite of Siegfried in terms of personality.
In other words, not my type.
When he finally reached the row we were sitting at, Anton Karlsson hesitated a little. He looked slightly quizzically at his sister, before sliding his gaze over to me. When I met his eyes, I had a feeling of déjà vu. Even though Anton had forest-green eyes that were so different from Siegfried's cold blue, they both had the same piercing gaze that Siegfried had pinned on me when we had first been introduced.
This was it, I determined. This was my chance to redeem myself for failing Siegfried's test that very first time. I held Anton's gaze steadily, barely blinking and determinedly not looking away before he did. The crooked little smile that Anton had been wearing slowly faded away as we continued to stare at each other, and then he finally looked away, frowning a little.
I'd won that little staring competition, but victory felt hollow. I couldn't help but feel like I'd failed another test. I was horrid at first impressions.
I turned back to Maja, who was staring at me questioningly. Well, this was awkward. I silently cursed Siegfried. This was all his fault.
A silence had settled around the three of us. Anton was still standing, as if unsure whether he should sit down beside me or squeeze past the both of us so that he could sit on the other side of his sister. I cleared my throat awkwardly, gesturing to the seat beside me. "Um, hi. Have a seat."
"Hallo," he said, sounding incredibly European. My heart gave a little leap. But he still didn't sit down.
"Anton," Maja was all smiles again suddenly, "I made a new friend."
The crooked little smile came back onto his face. "That's good."
"Her name is Cassie." Then Maja turned to me and continued, "And this is my brother, Anton."
"Um, hi," I said, lamely. His grip was firm, not at all like his sister's. Twins they might have been, but the differences between their persons were startlingly obvious. After the introduction, Anton stood looking at me for a little while more, before he finally moved to sit himself down in the seat next to mine.
I wondered what I was supposed to do now. Sandwiched between the twins put me in the position of being the one obligated to strike up conversations on both sides. This was definitely awkward. I wondered why Maja had even bothered trying to befriend me when she'd already had a brother in the same class.
"Um—" I began, still wondering what I was supposed to say. The decision was taken out of my hands when Anton suddenly sat up straighter and turned to me.
"Go out with me?"
I froze. I had a feeling Maja was similarly frozen next to me, but I didn't turn around to check. Anton was staring at me, a small smile picking at his lips.
"I thought Maja said you were shy," I blurted.
It was an evasion, and he knew it. He didn't respond, just kept staring at me with those big green eyes, waiting for my answer. That little smile hanging at the corner of his lips bothered me. He didn't look like he was taking this seriously. Was this his idea of a joke?
If it was, I could play his game. Trying to emulate his casualness, I shrugged. "Sorry," I said, going for a flippant tone, but my voice wavered. "I'm already in love with someone else."
Anton's smile faltered, and that was when it hit me that he'd been nervous. That little smile that I'd thought was a sign of his joking mood had, in fact, been a smile of uncertainty. I could feel my internal organs shriveling up and dying. It hadn't been a joke.
I should've handled it better.
"Ouch," I heard Maja murmur beside me, but I couldn't take my eyes off Anton. I couldn't read his expression, but I could now tell that the smile he was trying so hard to maintain was forced. I'd hurt his feelings, obviously.
"I see," Anton said quietly, shifting backwards in his seat. It was classic distancing body language. A pang of guilt assailed me. If he felt even half as bad as I had when I'd seen Maja and Siegfried together…
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
Anton nodded, but made no move to say anything else. He busied himself with taking out his textbooks from his backpack.
A hand landed on mine. "It's okay," said Maja, even as she looked worriedly at her brother, "he'll get over it."
"Um," what could I say to that? "Okay."
"So," Maja said, with a kind of forced cheer, "who's the guy you have your eye on?"
Did she really have to talk about this now? Did she not have any tact? I stole a glance at Anton, but he had opened his textbook and was stoically staring at it.
"Um, I dunno," I laughed awkwardly, wanting to drop the topic.
Maja was like a dog with a bone, however. "Come on," she urged softly. Who knew she could be such a gossip? "Tell me, please?"
I rolled my eyes. "Okay, it's your boyfriend," I said flatly. I'd said it in a way that would make it come across as a joke, so I wasn't worried about Maja's reaction.
And just like I'd expected, Maja laughed. "That's funny!"
I peeked again at Anton. He'd given up all pretense of reading, and was staring at me with a frown. The previous light in his eyes had turned to stone. My heart skipped a bit.
Maja nudged me again. "Come on, tell me the truth."
I could still feel Anton's unflinching gaze on me. Feeling small and contemptible, I withdrew into my seat. "You don't know him," I mumbled. "He goes to a different college."
A lie, and a lie. I would feel bad if I wasn't already.
"Ooh," Maja grinned, seeming to have forgotten all about my rejection of her brother entirely. "Which school does he go to?"
"Um," I could feel the lies settle over me like cold dirt. "UCLA."
Maja looked like she was about to continue her interrogation, so it was a relief when a white-haired but still handsome man strode through the door and introduced himself as Professor Miller.
"Any questions about this course?" he asked, but barely paused to allow anyone to respond. "Good, then let's start the lecture now. I hate wasting time."
I grinned a little at that. This was a professor after my own heart. For the rest of the lesson, I kept my eyes on my paper while I scribbled notes dutifully, trying to ignore the unfriendly waves that I could feel now radiating off Anton Karlsson.
When class ended, I prepared to make for a hasty escape. I didn't have to, though. The moment Prof. Miller declared the class dismissed, Anton leapt to his feet and made for the door. I relaxed a little, but not for long. A glance at Maja told me she was smiling to herself while texting someone on her cell phone.
Three guesses as to who that would be.
I had no desire to have to stand face to face with Siegfried and Maja, so I mumbled something about another class and was walking away before Maja had even looked up from her texting.
"Bye, Cassie!" I heard her sweet voice call from behind me. I opted for a vague wave of the hand before sprinting for the door.
It was normal to sprint, right? I could've been running late for my next class, after all.
I hoped I hadn't been too obvious. Now that I'd gotten to know her a little more, I could tell that Maja was a sweet girl. A little too sweet for Siegfried, perhaps. Then again, who knew? They said opposites attracted. Maybe that sweetness had been what had drawn Siegfried to Maja in the first place.
I groaned to myself. I had to stop analyzing their relationship. Constant analysis of the kind of girl Siegfried liked was not conducive to moving on.
After I'd burst through the doors and turned the corner, I realized I'd been wrong. Anton should've been long gone, but he wasn't. He was leaning against the wall, staring into space. It was my own fault. If I hadn't stopped abruptly upon seeing him, I might have been able to leave without being detected. Unfortunately, my brain slammed on the brakes the moment I saw him, and my sudden halt caused him to look over.
He straightened, hands in pockets. "Cassie," he said, but there was a slight lifting of his tone at the end that made my name sound more like a question.
"Um," I said nervously, "hi."
He was looking at me, but he had to be looking at a spot slightly above my eyes, because tried as I might, I couldn't quite pin down his gaze. What was with these guys' refusal to look me in the eye? Anton's behavior was reminding me of Siegfried, and it was that reminder that made my voice sharp. I'd had enough of guys who thought they were above making eye contact with me.
"Why won't you look at me?" I snapped.
There was a pause, before his eyes moved to clash with mine. For a moment, I regretted speaking up as I did. His direct gaze was absolutely unnerving. "What?" he asked. He looked like he had no idea what I was talking about.
I looked away. "Never mind," I mumbled, resisting the urge to fidget under his piercing gaze. When Anton looked at someone, he really looked. It looked like he was looking straight into my brain to read my thoughts, if I'd believed in things like that. It was disturbing, to say the least. "Um, so, I need to go—"
Anton interrupted my excuse. "Can I speak with you for a moment?"
2011 was turning out to be the worst year ever. I was going to meet my death at the hands of Anton Karlsson, after rejecting him in the worse possible way – by telling him that I was in love with his sister's boyfriend.
"Why?" I played dumb.
He shoved his hands deeper into his pockets and pressed his lips together. "You're in love with Sieg," he said.
I blanched. "I'm not in love with him."
Anton frowned at me. "Don't lie," he said.
"I'm really not," I insisted. "It's just a crush, is all."
He blinked. I had a feeling he hadn't expected me to admit to it so quickly. "Yeah," he said quietly, looking away for a brief moment. His lips were pressed together again. He was displeased by my admission. I could understand why. His next statement was along the same lines as my train of thought. "Sieg and Maja are a couple now."
"Really?" I glared at him. "And you feel the need to play protective big brother? Don't worry, I have no intention of becoming the third party."
He studied me with a blank expression. "You're rude," was all he said. He was probably regretting ever asking me out now.
"Yeah, well," I was suddenly uncomfortable. "I'm not usually like that. I'm just a little on edge today. Sorry."
He smiled a little. "Never mind," he said. "I can understand."
"Understand what?" I folded my arms in a defensive gesture. He was cute when he smiled, I'd give him that.
"Liking someone who has feelings for someone else," he said, altogether too casually, like we were friends exchange juicy bits of information.
I stiffened. Was he talking about me? "You're forward," I remarked. "Maja said you were shy."
He smiled his trademark tiny smile. I wondered why his smiles were always that – small. I wondered how he would look with a big grin on his face. I had a sudden urge to find out.
"I am," he shrugged.
"You're not," I countered. I shifted my feet, suddenly antsy. I hadn't expected to actually want to get to know more about Maja's brother. Hell, I hadn't even wanted to get to know Maja in the first place. So what was I thinking, wanting to see Anton's full-fledged smile?
Plus, we'd been standing outside of the lecture theatre for altogether too long a time. I was surprised Maja hadn't walked out and seen us cavorting here yet. And what if Siegfried came to walk her to her next class?
"I need to go," I said hurriedly, bolstered by the urgency that last thought gave me.
The small smile that had adorned his lips dropped off quite suddenly. Anton shrugged and stepped back, away from me. "Okay," he said.
I could've left right then, but I hesitated. His face was stoic other than a slight compression of his lips, but there was a dimness in his eyes that told me he was hurt. He probably thought all that I was good for was rejecting him. But I hadn't meant to hurt his feelings, both times.
He was just standing there, staring at the ground, waiting for me to leave. Guilt propelled me to reach out and touch his hand lightly. His gaze snapped back onto mine, surprise reflected within the shiny green.
I took my hand away. "Um," I said, uncertain of why I'd done that. I asked the first thing that came to mind, "Are— are you on Facebook?"
He gave me an odd look, but nodded.
"Okay. Anton Karlsson, right?" When he nodded again – why was he being so shut-mouthed all of a sudden? – I floundered for a bit, "I— uh, I'll add you, okay? I'm listed as Cassadee Sutherland."
He – finally – smiled that tiny small of his. My heart rose back up from where it had fallen into the pits of my stomach. It was just the guilt talking, I told myself. But I couldn't help smiling back when he agreed,
Surprisingly, my real interaction with Anton Karlsson started online.
When I'd first added him on Facebook, I hadn't expected much. I'd assumed we would probably exchange a couple of pleasantries before going on our merry ways. I would've done my part in assuaging my guilt for treating him so poorly the first time round, and all would have been good.
But I'd forgotten that with Anton came his twin sister Maja. Within five minutes of Anton's acceptance of my friend request, my e-mail inbox had popped up with a notification of Maja Karlsson's request to 'become friends'. That girl sure moved fast. I was starting to get a feel for how she had managed to hook Siegfried in much less time than the one year I'd tried and failed miserably.
Of course, I'd had to accept her request. She was a nice girl. She just had unfortunate choices in boyfriends. Under other circumstances, I was sure we'd have become fast friends in no time.
As it was, I was still a little reluctant to get too close to her. For one thing, I didn't need a constant reminder of Siegfried, and, nice girl or not, that was what she symbolized. And if they ever got into a fight, I wasn't quite sure I would have the sacrificial spirit to put aside my own feelings and give her unbiased advice to sustain her relationship. I wasn't sure I was that nice of a person.
I had thought my main problem would be fending off Maja Karlsson's well-meaning friendliness. To my utter surprise, that hadn't been the case at all. Maja seemed to have dropped off the planet entirely; that was how much I saw of her in the days following. Anton, however was an entirely different story.
I'd heard that people were usually more outgoing versions of themselves behind the screen of the computer. Well – that wasn't quite true for Anton. Plus I think I would have been more than a little freaked out if he had turned into a different person entirely online. No, Online Anton was just as quiet and mysterious as his real-life counterpart, with just one exception. His messages were crafted with just the right amount of skill such that, though they were mostly short, he always included a little question at the end that ensured a reply. It had taken about a hundred messages or so on Facebook before I'd realized what he was doing. He was a master at maintaining virtual communication, that one.
Eventually we had decided to take the conversation to a more private sphere by moving onto instant messaging… and then texting. And that was when the trouble had started. We started chatting about everything – our lives, our families, our friends, our hopes and dreams… I didn't know how, but suddenly the conversations just dragged on and on until his texts were the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing I replied to at night.
And one week after we'd first started our virtual interactions, I was already close to considering Anton one of my closest friends.
Color me shocked.
It had come as a great shock to me, discovering how much I had in common with Anton. We had similar tastes in music, literature, and of course, one could never forget our mutual interest in forensics science – an interest Anton told me Maja had never shared, so he had hardly been able to find someone to talk about it with. He'd been delighted to discover my fascination with the subject, and I had learnt of a good many scientific theories and interesting case studies from him. As repayment, I would share with him my experiences as a host of the campus radio station, which constituted the practical part of my Broadcasting courses – something that he thought was "utterly cool".
And of course, my friends were starting to get the wrong idea about my relationship with Anton.
"She's at it again."
This was a snide remark by Freya, who was lounging on her couch and shooting me dirty looks. It was late afternoon on a Friday, and we were supposed to be heading out to the movies soon. We'd decided to crash at her apartment for a little while before the start of the movie.
Eric slung his arm over my shoulder and pushed his head in close, trying to read off the screen of my Blackberry. "'Nah, it's something boring, about zombies or whatever… Sounds like something you'd like though, horror junkie!' …And a disgustingly happy smiley face."
"Hey!" I quickly hit 'send' and stowed my Blackberry out of his sight. "Didn't you learn as a child that reading over people's shoulders is rude?"
"Not if they use disgustingly happy smiley faces," Eric said in a sing-song voice, grinning. Sometimes I wondered about the sanity of that boy.
Freya butted in from her position on the couch, "You should just date that boy already. Really! You're acting like one of those nauseating couples that can never stand to be away from each other."
I scoffed at that. "That's stupid. We're just friends who have a lot to say, that's all."
"And that's what she said," Eric said in an undertone. I reached over to swat at him, but he scooted away out of reach, falling onto Freya in the process.
Freya sat up and shoved at him. "Get off me, you lump!"
Eric rolled his eyes at her, but stood up nonetheless. "You should've just used that chance to feel me up instead of complaining."
Freya flushed. "Egomaniac. Who wants to feel up your flabby ass?" She made a big show of turning away from him.
Eric only crossed his arms and smirked to himself.
I shook my head. The both of them acted so much like an old married couple that it was ridiculous sometimes. And what was it that Freya had said about me and Anton? The pot calling the kettle black, really.
Not that Anton and I were anywhere near acting like a couple. Definitely not. He'd probably already gotten over whatever meager feelings he might've felt for me upon our first meeting, anyway. I wasn't quite sure, because that incident had never been brought up again.
I wasn't quite sure how I felt about that. Maybe relief.
Right – definitely relief.
My Blackberry beeped, signaling a reply from Anton. I shot a quick look at both Eric and Freya, my hand already moving to fish out my phone. Freya was glaring at me through narrowed eyes, while Eric beamed at me mischievously.
"And Lover Boy responds!" he announced, spreading his hands out, palms up. "Go on, reply; don't break his heart."
I rolled my eyes at him. "Don't be stupid." I opened the message with a few deft movements of my thumb, then scanned through the contents. There really wasn't much to read through, however – this was the shortest message I'd received from Anton yet. Maybe he was busy?
Or maybe he was getting sick of this texting thing we had going on. Then again, he was the one who kept responding. If he wanted to stop, all he had to do was to ignore a text or two of mine. I wasn't the kind of girl who would text someone incessantly even when they had ceased to reply.
I could take a hint, after all.
I hadn't noticed that Eric had come up behind me again, until he read the short message aloud, right into my ear,
"'Where?' …And another disgustingly happy smiley face. God, there's something seriously wrong with you people."
I vaulted away from him, clamping a hand to my ringing ear. "Crap! Eric! You and your girlfriend both have the same bad habit of shouting into people's ears."
"Sorry," Eric said, but I couldn't discern any hint of apology from his cheeky grin.
I rolled my eyes at him again and moved away so that he wouldn't be able to read over my shoulder anymore. Then I replied Anton's text with the name of the movie theater we were going to, with an innocuous "why?" tacked on behind.
Anton didn't reply after that, but I didn't think much of it. He was probably just busy. It was quite common for one of us to stop replying to the other's texts for a while during the day, but the conversation would always resume at night. It wasn't like both of us were glued to our phones the entire day, after all. I had my own life to lead, and I was sure Anton had his, too.
Throughout Eric's antics, Freya had been watching me. Now she sat up abruptly, "You should bang him!"
I blanched. "What?"
"Hell yeah, you should," Eric agreed, but more out of mischief than anything else. He shot me a wicked grin as he lounged back and handed the reins of the horrendous line of conversation back to Freya.
Freya's eyes were wide, as if she had had an epiphany or something. "Look, he's Maja Karlsson's brother, isn't he? That means he's Swedish, and probably gorgeous to boot. And I've heard that Swedish guys are," she slanted a sly glance at me, "always – you know – up for it."
"What the—" I grabbed a cushion, vaulted onto the couch Freya was on, and started hitting her with it. Her arms came up to shield her face – typical. I hit her in the stomach instead. "Shut up!"
I hit her again, but Freya caught hold of my weapon and tried to wrestle it from me. We rolled around the couch for a little bit, each trying to outwrestle the other. We only stopped when I almost fell off the couch and Eric's whistle of approval hit our ears.
"This is so hot!" he exclaimed, from his position at one end of the couch. "Should I get my video camera?"
Both of us sat up and glared at him. Freya, who had successfully wrestled the cushion from my hands, launched it now at Eric. It flew over his head rather than hitting it, but Eric reached out and caught it easily.
"You're such a guy!" I shouted, as he stood there laughing. Freya and I exchanged a female glance of exasperation at the antics of the male species, mock-fight mostly forgotten.
Eric puffed out his chest and grinned. "And you two are… girls."
"Thanks," I said dryly. "We really needed enlightenment on that one."
"Really?" Eric laughed, "I thought we were playing state-the-obvious here."
Freya shook her head at us, but she was smiling. "You two are such kids," she said, beginning to get off the couch. "Come on, or we're gonna be late."
"What are you talking about?" said Eric, stretching. I saw Freya stop to watch the way his muscles moved under his shirt. I rolled my eyes heavenward in an attempt to pray for divine intervention. These two were utterly hopeless. Eric just kept talking, "We still have fifteen whole minutes before the movie starts."
"Better early than never," Freya said primly. She looked a little flushed. Eric had probably noticed, because he was smirking a little to himself.
I swear, the chemistry between those two were off the charts.
"I think you've got that one wrong," Eric's voice was suddenly lower, and he made sure to brush against Freya when he walked past. Freya was staring into his eyes as if he was the greatest thing she'd eaten since sliced bread.
"Okay, okay!" I shouted, jumping up myself. "Stop flirting. We need to go."
Eric cleared his throat. "I'll go get the car," he said, and vanished out of the door before I could even comment.
Freya shook her head, as if snapping out of a daze. I turned to her, but she escaped me by wriggling past and heading for the door as well. "I call shotgun," she said hurriedly. "Keys are on the table. Lock up, will you?"
I did just that, grumbling softly to myself all the while. I was aware that the both of them were probably making full use of this time to sneak in a kiss or two. I just hoped they wouldn't go too far. I had no desire to see two of my best friends going at it in the car. I checked my Blackberry one last time to stall time – no message from Anton, but one from my mother telling me that my parents wouldn't be home till late, so I'd have to take care of dinner myself – before sighing and heading for the car.
To my relief, things in the car were PG-rated by the time I slid into the backseat. Eric and Freya were both sitting in their own seats, stiffly staring out of the windshield. I briefly wondered if something had gone wrong between the two of them, before shrugging. It wasn't my business, really. Besides, Freya had never really confided in me regarding her relationship with Eric. I had a feeling she didn't want to tell anyone too much about what she had going on with him.
I knew her – that just showed how much in love she already was with Eric.
Eric, on the other hand… I'd known him for five years, since we'd sat next to each other in History class junior year, but I still couldn't read him. I had no idea if he was as invested in the relationship with Freya as Freya was.
Then again, this was none of my business. It was their relationship, and they had to sort it out themselves.
"So," I said, to break the silence that had settled thickly over the leather seats as Eric drove, "Did you know? True love is when two people stalk each other on Facebook."
Eric snorted, and I could see Freya starting to smile through the rearview mirror.
"That's just stupid," Freya countered. "You wouldn't call a real life stalker your true love, would you?"
"Um," I hedged, "I might, if I were stalking him too."
"That's just creepy."
"And creepy people belong together," I said triumphantly. "True love for stalkers!"
"Every sentence that comes out of your mouth making you sound even creepier," Freya informed me.
I stuck my tongue out at her.
She twisted around in her seat and stuck hers right back out at me.
"Shut up," I muttered.
"You shut up!" she retorted childishly.
I crossed my arms and sat back huffily. "Fine."
"Fine," she repeated, mimicking my actions in her seat up front.
We kept this up all the way to the theater, until Eric had pulled into a parking lot and turned off the car.
"If you two are done being five," Eric observed calmly, "we're here. Ten minutes early." He shot Freya a mocking look.
Freya's chin went up in a gesture of defiance. "And it might take the whole ten minutes to queue for tickets and food."
They caught and held each other's gaze for a long moment. I shifted restlessly in the backseat.
Finally, the argumentative spark in Eric's eyes fizzled out. "Okay," he ceded, shrugging. He smiled at Freya crookedly. It seemed to placate her, because she gave a small smile back. "Let's go, then."
"On the bright side," I said casually, as if I'd seen none of that, "we're now only eight minutes early."
Eric casted me an amused look as he got out of the car. "Every silver lining and all that, huh?"
"Every cloud," I corrected.
"Same difference," Eric rejoined. It seemed like his good mood was back. As we headed in the direction of the theater, he sidled over to Freya and took her hand. She rolled her eyes at him, but didn't pull away.
I'd just prepared myself to walk behind them when Freya turned and grabbed my right hand. "Come on, slowpoke!" She quipped, pulling me along so that I would have to walk next to her and Eric. "We're gonna be late."
Eric rolled his eyes at me over the top of Freya's head. "We're eight minutes early, woman."
I grinned, feeling inexplicably happy to be walking beside them instead of tagging along behind. "Seven minutes now, actually."
"Same difference," Eric said off-handedly.
"Do you want popcorn?" Freya was musing as we stepped into the reception area of the theater, "I want popcorn."
Any response I might have had died on my tongue when I looked up to see a familiar flash of blond hair in the queue for tickets. I barely felt it as Freya's grip on my hand tightened as she tried to pull me away, in the direction of the food counter. I shrugged her off.
I walked up to the queue, bypassed Siegfried, who had his arm around Maja's shoulders, and plastered on my sunniest grin. "Hi," I said, "fancy meeting you here."
For once, I felt Siegfried's gaze on me even though I was resolutely not looking at him. Usually, it was the other way round. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Siegfried nod in greeting to who I assumed was Eric. They were both majoring in the same subject, so it was hardly surprising that they knew each other. They weren't the closest of friends, though, so I wasn't worried Eric would tell Siegfried anything about my feelings for him. That was – if he hadn't guessed already.
I was of the opinion that he had.
Maja returned my greeting with a confused look, but Anton had on a small, knowing smile.
"You're here with your friends, Cassie?" Maja asked.
"Yep," I nodded, "we're watching The Thin Line."
Maja shot her brother a sideway glance that was incredibly telling. "Really?" A smile was beginning to form on her perfectly glossed pink lips. "That's what Anton wanted to watch, too. Sieg and I are more interested in watching Sweet Catastrophe."
I almost snorted at the thought of expressionless Siegfried Kloibhofer sitting through a romantic comedy like that.
Anton shuffled his feet and cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I've heard The Thin Line is a good movie." He was staring at the ground, but as I watched him, his eyes flickered upward and met mine. I was biting my lips hard enough to stifle my smile.
The sides of his lips tipped slowly upward.
I turned to Anton pointedly, "I guess we must have read the same movie review, huh?"
"Maybe," Anton said noncommittally, but that little smile was still hanging on his lips.
"Why don't we split up, then?" Maja suggested. "Anton, you can watch the movie with Cassie and her friends. Cassie, your friends will not mind, will they?"
I cast a glance at Freya and Eric, who were standing a slight way behind me, watching the interaction with thinly-veiled interest. Eric was grinning a Cheshire grin at me. Before I could even think to reply, he'd shouted,
"No, of course we don't mind!"
I shrugged, "I guess they don't mind."
"Do you?" Anton's voice was soft, and he was looking directly at me as if he really cared about my answer.
"What?" I was a little distracted by the way he was looking at me.
"Mind. Do you mind? If I join you?" He was looking at me the way he had back when he'd asked me out when we'd first met – with an indecipherable little smile. I looked into his eyes and saw that they were guarded. I saw the uncertainty that I'd missed the first time round. And I wasn't about to make the same mistake this time.
I cleared my throat. "Of course not. The more the merrier."
Maja clapped her hands together. "This is great! We'll see you later then, Anton."
Anton slipped his hands into his pockets but stayed where he was. "I'll buy the tickets," he explained when I looked at him oddly. "I'm in the queue already."
"Oh, okay," I said, walking backwards to the spot I assumed Freya and Eric were standing, "we'll buy the food then. You want anything?"
"That's us," Siegfried spoke up suddenly, the first words I'd heard out of him since we'd all run into each other in the movie theater. He turned towards the counter to buy the tickets for the movie he would be watching with Maja. His words had apparently only been meant for Maja.
When my eyes turned back on Anton, I knew that he'd noticed how my gaze had flown to Siegfried the moment he'd spoken. Anton's face gave nothing away, but his smile was gone. "I'll have popcorn, please," he said, in response to my previous question.
"Hey, listen," I said, without really knowing what I was trying to prove, "you want to share a large popcorn? They have this promotion going on, and… well, I can't finish a large all by myself."
Anton blinked, but that was the extent to which he showed his surprise. "Sure," he said.
I nodded and turned around to walk properly back to Freya and Eric. "Okay, let's go." I reached out and gave them both a shove, because it looked like they were still standing rooted to the spot. "Onward, people!"
"I was right," Freya hissed frantically into my ear. "He's gorgeous!"
"What?" Puzzled, I turned back to take another look at Anton, whom I assumed Freya was talking about. He was looking back at us. He flashed a quick, small smile, and then moved up in line to buy all our tickets. He was cute, sure, but gorgeous? I really wouldn't go that far. To my eyes, he had more of a cute-little-boy look more than anything else. "Are you talking about Anton?"
"Who else?" Freya looked at me like I was stupid. "He's hot. You so have to hook up with him."
"Wait," I had to clarify again, "are we really talking about the same person? Anton Karlsson? Maja Karlsson's brother?"
"Hot piece of Swedish meat," Freya nodded.
"I really beg to differ," Eric drawled.
"Aw," Freya sent him a mocking smile, "is darling Eric jealous of the hot piece of Swedish meat?"
Eric rolled his eyes. "Don't you just wish?"
It looked like it was going to escalate into something unpleasant, so I interrupted before they could get well and truly started. "Freya, I really don't see it."
Freya turned a scandalized look on me. "Seriously? Seriously? Girl, are you blind?"
"Um, no?" I hedged, quite aware that Freya was on one of her rolls.
"Those green eyes… That bone structure… That height… His body…"
"Careful, you're starting to drool," I said flatly.
"He's hot," Freya mused.
Eric made a face and as he handed us our popcorn and drinks.
"How much—" I began, but he waved it away.
"It's fine," he said. "Just hold this." He handed me the large popcorn that I'd agreed to share with Anton, as well as one of the cups of drinks.
Freya sighed again. I had a feeling she was playing it up more than was necessary. Eric shoved a drink into her hand, and she took it absently as she continued, "Can I have him, Cassie, if you don't want him?"
At this point Eric took it upon himself to clear his throat quite loudly, and Freya fell silent as Anton walked up from behind, movie tickets in hand.
I glared at Freya, but turned to Anton. "How much do we owe you?"
He shrugged a little uncomfortably, "Never mind, it's on me."
"No, we couldn't—" I began, but Anton just looked confused.
"It's not in your culture to pay separately often, or am I wrong?"
I coughed into my hand. It was like he didn't know the phrase 'go Dutch'. How cute.
Freya interjected now, "But we don't really know each other…"
Anton looked at me. "I'm friends with Cassie. Does that count?"
"It's okay," I said, not wanting to drag this whole money issue out. There was a simple solution to the problem. "I'll just get the bill the next time we go out."
Both Freya and Eric started smirking at me, and it was only then I realized what I'd implied. Anton was smiling too, his trademark small smile.
"Okay," he said with a shrug. Then he reached out to pluck the popcorn and drink from my hands. "I'll help you with that?"
"Thanks," I muttered, a little awkwardly. This was off to a weird start.
Our seats were all together in the second row from the back, so I let Eric and Freya sit beside each other before heading down the row for my own seat. Freya was on my right and Eric on hers. Anton entered last so he sat to my left. This was an odd arrangement, because when I watched horror movies with Freya and Eric, we usually had a system where Eric sat in between the both of us. That way, the both of us could grab at him whenever something disturbing came up onscreen.
I had a feeling Freya had manipulated the seating arrangement this time on purpose. I shook my head at the thought of her little tricks. Where Eric teased openly, Freya plotted. They really were meant for each other.
I felt something nudge at my left elbow, and turned to see that Anton that placed the large box of popcorn on the armrest in between our seats. He was trying to balance it on the convex surface of the armrest, to no avail. I decided to help him out.
"We can lift the armrest… if you want." Following my suggestion, Anton lifted the armrest all the way up, then placed the box of popcorn in the space where the armrest had been – in between us.
He smiled at me, and I smiled back. I reached over to take a handful of popcorn, only to encounter Anton's hand by accident. My first instinct was to pull back, but upon second thought managed to stop myself from making such a drastic move. Hand-brushing was no big deal.
Come on, what was I – eight?
I mentally rolled my eyes at my own jumpiness. I carefully untangled my fingers from Anton's, and took a few kernels of popcorn. The lights were starting to dim, signaling the start of the movie. I popped the popcorn into my mouth and chewed slowly, peeking out of the corner of my eye to make sure Anton's hand was out of the box before reaching back in to take more.
The movie was horrendous. The zombies were ugly, and it seemed their only goal in life – or death? – was to chomp down human body parts. There was a particularly horrifying part, when a zombie jumped out of nowhere and latched onto the female protagonist with a hoarse scream, that made me jump. My breath caught in my throat, and I did the first thing that came to mind –
I grabbed the thing nearest to me.
Which happened to be Anton's hand, seeing as I had been reaching for more popcorn at that time. He had also been reaching into the box when the zombie had leapt on screen, and his fingers had lightly brushed mine. In an instinctive move, my fingers had latched onto his at tightly as the zombie had latched onto the actress.
Anton had stilled the moment I grabbed him, but after a moment he squeezed my hand. His shoulder brushed mine as he leaned over to whisper, "Are you all right?" He was so close that I could feel the heat radiating off his body. I forgot to breathe for one split second, before the air rushed in and my lungs expanded again.
"Um," I stuttered, belatedly realizing what I'd done. "Yeah. Sorry." I released my grip on his fingers, embarrassed. I forewent the popcorn I had been reaching for and retracted my hand. For the rest of the movie, I stoutly kept my arms crossed over my chest, just in case.
Nothing else particularly interesting happened in the movie. Two hours after we'd first entered the theatre, when the human male protagonist finally breathed his last, the screen went dark and the credits flashed onscreen.
"Thank God," I muttered under my breath. The torture was finally over.
The lights brightened and I turned to see Anton smiling to himself on my left. Either the movie had pleased him immensely or – more likely – he'd heard my muttered comment. "You didn't like it?" There was a glint in his eyes.
"That was the worst movie I've ever had the displeasure of watching," I informed him. Anton looked like he was trying hard to keep himself from laughing out loud.
On my right, Freya made a sound of disagreement. "What's wrong with you?" she demanded loudly, causing some of the moviegoers on their way out to turn in our direction. "That was great. I love how the zombies chomped their way through everything and prevailed in the end."
I grabbed some popcorn and stuffed it into my mouth to stifle what I had to say about the zombies. Anton looked at the popcorn box, then picked it up and handed it to me. When I looked at him questioningly, he said, "You didn't eat much. Do you want the rest?"
I looked into the box and saw a measly handful of kernels lying at the bottom. There wasn't much left. "You're a big eater," I commented to Anton, without any acridity.
One corner of his mouth lifted in a half-smile. "Sorry."
"Don't be," I reassured him, "I can't eat that much, anyway."
He looked like he could barely understand what I was saying. That made two of us, I supposed. I had no idea why I was blabbering on about the popcorn. "Okay?" he said.
"Don't worry," I said, just to clear it up for him, "I don't really have a point."
"I don't have a problem with you two flirting, really," Eric spoke up, and even without turning to look I could hear from his voice that he was grinning widely. "But could you let us out first?"
I never stood up faster. Anton gave me a considering look before standing up himself.
"Sorry, man," he said with a hint of laughter in his voice. He turned and began making his way out of the row. It was then that I realized we were the only ones left in the theatre; everyone else had already left.
Had I really been blabbering on that long? How mortifying.
"We were not flirting, Eric," I said primly. "I was just… finishing the popcorn."
Freya snorted, in a very unladylike manner.
I found my ammunition, "This coming from someone who enjoyed that ridiculous movie!"
"Hey!" Freya protested. "What's wrong with the movie?"
"Uh, I dunno – everything?" I rolled my eyes, even though Freya was walking behind me and couldn't see.
"I know you just rolled your eyes," she deadpanned.
"Great." I rolled my eyes again.
"Your eyes are going to fall out someday if you keep doing that," Freya warned.
It was my turn to snort.
Eric tut-tutted from behind, like a mother hen. "Manners, Cassie," he mock-chastised.
My friends were so ridiculous. I quickened my footsteps so that I was walking by Anton's side instead of behind him, and said as much to him.
He only smiled, "They're funny."
I heaved a fake sigh. "Even you've turned on me."
"Hah!" called Freya triumphantly from behind. "Hot Swedish guy likes me!"
I turned around to look at her incredulously, but when I turned back I saw that there was a light in Anton's eyes.
"You think I'm hot?" he asked Freya.
"Hell yeah," Freya said.
"Are you drunk?" I asked.
The smile had fallen off Eric's face and he was suspiciously silent. We were now all clustered outside the exit of the theatre hall we'd just come out of. Anton was regarding Freya with an evident look of fascination.
"Why do I have to be drunk to think Anton's hot?" Freya said challengingly. "Do you think he's ugly or something?"
I spluttered. "That's not what I meant!" I saw the uncertain look Anton was giving me. "I don't think you're ugly," I told him reassuringly.
Anton looked inquiringly at me. "But you don't think I'm hot?"
"Oh, God," Eric muttered. Everyone ignored him.
"Um," I racked my brains to find a way to get out of this ridiculous situation Freya had landed me in, "you know you're… good-looking…"
"But you don't think he's hot?" This time it was Freya, adding fire to the flames. I glared at her.
"He's cute, all right," I burst out in frustration finally, "but just not my type!"
An abrupt silence descended, in which Freya frowned and shook her head at me in disappointment. I didn't know what she'd been pushing – okay, I knew; she'd wanted me to admit my so-called attraction for Anton, but how could I succumb to something that hadn't existed in the first place?
The worst thing, though, was Anton's reaction. After my outburst, he was resolutely looking in another direction, away from me. The all-too-familiar feeling of guilt was creeping up on me again. It seemed like I could never get things right with Anton.
I opened my mouth, then closed it again.
"Anton! Cassie!" A tinkling voice rang across the room. I had never been so glad to see Maja Karlsson in my life. Then again, I had never been particularly glad to see her, ever. I really needed to start giving the girl a little more credit.
Anton apparently felt the same way. "Maja," he said, and there was a palpable note of relief in his voice.
Maja barreled to a stop before the four of us with Siegfried in tow, all smiles. "How was your movie?"
She looked so happy that I was loathe to spoil her mood. "Great," I said, just as Anton replied, "Okay." We both looked at each other. I tried for a wobbly smile, and he responded with an equally vague one.
I breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn't going to hold my last statement against me. Maybe I'd imagined the hurt in his eyes when I'd said he was not my type. He had probably already gotten over me, anyway. It was probably just his ego that had been dented.
This was all Freya's fault.
Maja's smile was starting to fade into something that looked tremulously like a frown. She studied Anton, who gave her an almost-transparent half-grin in return. She turned to me, distinctly unhappy, "Oh, no. He didn't ask you out again, did he?"
I about choked. "Uh, no," I managed. Maja still looked unconvinced, so I repeated, in a stronger tone of voice, "No, he didn't. Gosh, we're just friends. Why would he do something like that…"
Maja gave a smile that was almost a grimace.
Anton suddenly laughed. It wasn't a full-blown laugh of mirth, but it wasn't one of those fake-sounding ones either. It was just… a small laugh. "That's the second knife in my heart tonight," he said, the melodrama in his words offset by the half-amused tone he'd said it in.
Siegfried was standing behind Maja, holding her elbow, staring at the rest of us in bland curiosity. His scrutiny made me feel even more embarrassed by the topic of conversation.
"Come with me," I snapped at Anton, before I turned and marched out of the building, not even looking back to make sure Anton was following.
Behind me, I heard Eric clear his throat and ask, presumably Maja and Siegfried, "Uh… So, how was the movie?"
I heard Maja start to gush, "Oh, it was so sweet! Especially when he serenaded her in that scene where…"
And with a whoosh, the wind drowned out her voice as I stepped out of the building. I kept walking, though, until I was a little way away from the theatre, before turning around. Anton was standing a foot or two away, looking up into the sky.
I looked, too, just to see what he was looking at. I could see nothing, save for a few elusive gleams given out from the stars scattered across the area of pitch black. I looked back to him, but he kept his head tilted away from me.
I decided to cut to the chase. "Do you still want to date me?"
"Yes," he replied without missing a beat. He still wasn't looking at me.
I frowned. "What are you looking at?" Just to be sure there was nothing there that warranted such attention, I glanced up at the sky again.
The stars mocked me with their smiles.
When I looked back at Anton this time, he was staring me directly into my eyes. He was smiling a little. "Ah, I forgot you don't like it when people don't look at you."
"No," I started to deny it, then changed tack, "So… you still like me?"
"Yes," he said, without any hint of embarrassment. I was already embarrassed enough for the both of us for asking that question. It had sounded… so juvenile.
"So, what do you want? One date? Two?"
His eyes shuttered and I was sure he was looking at some point over my head rather than at me, again. "More, I hope."
"Maybe…" I swallowed, "Maybe we can just go out… once… and… see what happens."
He shifted his large green eyes onto me thoughtfully. "So I'm – ah, what do you call it – a pity date?"
"No!" I exclaimed, even though – if you really thought about it – he was. I struggled to find better words, "I like talking to you. And it's not like we're not friends, anyway. We could just hang out… and see where it goes."
There was an unrelenting glint in his eye. "As friends or as boyfriend-girlfriend?"
I grimaced. "Can it be… somewhere in between?"
"If I date you, you're my girlfriend," he said.
"You have very concrete ideas about dating," I said doubtfully.
He shrugged, looking away to the side. "Maybe," he said softly.
"Just because you go on a date with someone, doesn't mean you're a couple," I informed him.
"But you're not just someone," he said, suddenly looking very amused.
I stared at him. "Are you trying not to laugh or something?"
He coughed. "Sorry, that reminded me of a line from a cheesy movie."
I couldn't help the chuckle that escaped my lips. "You're funny."
"So you'll go out with me?" He had on the smile that I'd come to know as the smile he wore when he was trying to put on a brave face.
I didn't want to hurt his feelings again, but things weren't that simple. I would be leading him on if I went out with him while I was still not over Siegfried. "It's not that easy," I said slowly.
"Why not?" he wanted to know. I fell silent, and he guessed, "Are you still in love with Sieg?" There was a slight downward curve to his mouth as he asked this.
That was so cute.
"I told you, it's just a crush," I said uncomfortably. It was harder to say this time. Back then, Anton had just been a name, a face. Now… he was a friend. A friend that – I'd come to find – I enjoyed talking to.
Anton suddenly took a step closer towards me. There was a determination that was reflected in his eyes that I had never seen before. "I can be a substitute for Sieg," he said, very seriously. He lifted his right hand to touch my cheek softly, then dropped it again. He shoved both hands into his pockets and straightened. "Right? Why not?"
I stared at him like he was crazy. "You'll never be a substitute for Siegfried. You're nothing like him." And I didn't want him to be like Siegfried, I realized. Anton had his own brand of charm… The kind of charm that was more than Siegfried could ever hope to achieve.
"Don't demean yourself, Anton," I said quietly. It was my turn to look away. The fire in his eyes was hard to watch.
"You won't give me a chance," he said, just as quietly. He made no move to touch me, but my head turned back towards him of its own accord. Our gazes met and held. "Because I'm not Sieg."
What he said – it was, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the truth. There really was nothing I could say to defend myself. "Sorry," I whispered. I had the sudden urge to hug him – something, to take away the hurt in his eyes.
"What can I do to make you give me a chance?" The questioning look in his eyes was heartbreaking. He looked so boyish in that instant. Like a little boy that had lost his way in a large shopping mall and had just realized that the hand he'd grabbed was a stranger's hand.
On impulse, I grabbed his hand. He jerked a little and stared at it, a little dumbfounded. His hand was warm. And large. Not boyish at all. My heart was suddenly beating very quickly. I had to pause for a moment before the words came back into my mind.
"Just be yourself. I'll go out with you."
His eyes had lightened considerably. "As my girlfriend," he said. There was still a hint of question in his statement.
I took a deep breath and smiled at him. I was aware that I was probably signing him up for a lot of hurt somewhere down the road, especially since I still wasn't fully over Siegfried. But maybe it was time to give Anton Karlsson the chance he deserved. He was right – I'd never given him a chance, and it wasn't fair.
My smile probably mirrored his in uncertainty. But I nodded anyway.
"As your girlfriend."
"A man who hates women is called a misogynist, right? So what do you call a woman who hates men?"
This was coming from Freya, who was swiveling around in the computer chair. My computer chair, to be exact, because this particular afternoon we'd all decided to hang out in my room at the dorms. Eric and I had been chatting about up-and-coming rock bands that we both liked, and I guess Freya had been bored.
Thus the question.
Band-naming forgotten, Eric and I both gave Freya odd looks. Eric, sprawled on a black beanbag in the corner, stirred himself enough to mumble, "Dunno."
"Because," Freya went on as if she hadn't been expecting an answer, "I think you're one, Cassie."
"What, a misogynist?" I asked dryly.
"No," Freya glared at me. "You know what I meant. A woman who hates men."
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, that makes sense."
"No, listen," Freya sat up straight in what I liked to call her 'explaining pose'. It was something habitual that she did whenever she was trying to convince someone of something. Usually something ridiculous. "You secretly hate guys, and that's why you keep falling for the jerks like Siegfried. Deep down inside, you know guys like him would treat you like crap, and you need that to be able to justify your hatred for the male species in general."
"Hey now," Eric interrupted, "Siegfried's not that much of a jerk. He just can't help it if he doesn't like Cassie back." He shot me an apologetic look for that last statement, but I only shrugged. It was true, after all. And besides, it was kind of sweet how loyal Eric was to his friends.
"Just because you're a Psych major, doesn't mean you get to impose your psychoanalytic crap on me," I told Freya a little sharply, because I was a little insulted.
Freya continued as if I hadn't said anything, "And then the nice guys like Anton… You know they'll treat you well, so you stay away from them by pretending that they're—" here she used her fingers to draw quotation marks in the air, "—'not your type.'"
I sat up from my reclining position on the bed, pointing accusingly at Freya. "So this is what it's about."
"Didn't your mother tell you? It's rude to point," Freya said angelically.
I didn't let up on the pointing. "You deserve much worse than to be pointed at! What is with your obsession with pushing me onto Anton?"
"That's a good idea," Freya noted.
I glared at her. "I didn't mean that literally."
"Still a good idea," Eric interjected from his corner.
I turned my glare on him, "Don't you dare give her any ideas." He raised his hands in a palms-up gesture, signaling his surrender.
"And anyway," I paused, "we had a good chat about that last night."
Freya sat up. "Yeah, you never did tell us what that was about. Did he just grab you and kiss you senseless?" she asked hopefully.
"Maybe," I said, deliberately coy.
Freya's eyes widened so much that they were in danger of popping right out of her sockets. "What?" she screeched.
"Funny," I said dryly. "You nag me so much about hooking up with him, but when it really happens, you're the last person to believe it. Do you have some kind of psychoanalytical theory for that sort of thing, too?"
"Seriously?" Freya screeched again. "He grabbed you and kissed you senseless?"
"Uh, no," I said. It was really hard to picture Anton grabbing anyone and kissing them senseless. He still seemed a little too reserved for that.
"What happened?" Freya shouted, leaping up from the chair and grabbing hold of my shoulders.
"Woman, you need to calm the fuck down," Eric said from his corner-seat.
In response, or perhaps more likely in rebellion, Freya gave me a little shake.
I pushed her away. "Don't do that! Okay, so we decided to date for a bit. He didn't kiss me or anything. He just told me he'd call me when he got home."
"Hah!" Freya jabbed a finger at me. "You're dating Anton Karlsson!"
"Great," I said flatly. "A little louder, and maybe the kids in Africa will be able to hear you."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Freya demanded now. "Why did I have to dig it out of you?"
I scoffed. "You know what's worse? You know what's worse? Finding out on Facebook."
Freya rolled her eyes. "Are you still not over that?"
"You should've told me," I said half-heartedly.
"It would've spoilt your Christmas break."
"True," I agreed.
There was a little silence as Freya absorbed the fact that I'd just agreed with her. "So what were you complaining about, again?"
Eric coughed. "Cassie, are you over Siegfried?" And there was the question I'd been dreading to hear. Although, I'd expected that it would eventually come from Freya, not Eric. Since when did guys care about details like that?
"Uh," I folded my arms self-consciously, "Not… exactly. I think."
Freya was narrowing her eyes at me, "Wait. You're 'not exactly' over Siegfried yet, but you're going out with Anton anyway?"
"What?" I tried to defend myself, "You were the one who kept pushing for it to happen!"
"I didn't think you would use him as a rebound like that!" Freya countered.
"We talked about it," I said uneasily, reminded again of all my misgivings about the relationship with Anton. "He knows where he stands."
"And do you?" Eric asked, disapprovingly. This was a different side of him than the mischievous Eric I usually saw. I'd almost forgotten that he could be serious, too.
"What do you mean, do I?" I was starting to get angry, and I was sure it showed. I paused to take a breath so that my flaring nostrils wouldn't give me away. "Weren't you the ones who kept pushing me onto him, anyway?"
This time, Eric didn't make any jokes. He stood up slowly, his mouth set in a grim line. "You really shouldn't play with his feelings like that."
How had this morphed into an argument? "Since when did you care about him so much? Is there something between you two that Freya should know about?" I sniped facetiously.
"He's a friend," Eric retorted, "and don't you bring my relationship with Freya into this."
"Wow, there's a relationship?" I folded my arms and glared up at him challengingly. "I would never have known."
Eric's face was turning red, but it was Freya who leapt up and demanded, "That's enough!"
The two of us fell silent, because when Freya was angry, it was best to let her get it all out before safely speaking up. She could be quite scary if she wanted to be.
"I should have told you this earlier, Cassie," Freya had suddenly lowered her voice, and she was wringing her hands. I could tell whatever was coming next, wasn't good. "But… uh… Eric and I decided to make it official sometime last week."
"And when was I supposed to find out about this new development?" I asked in a deceptively calm tone. "Oh, wait, I know – when I next checked Facebook?"
"Not every couple has to be Facebook official," Eric intercepted with an annoyed growl. The anger that had burst to the surface regarding my relationship with Anton was still simmering hot in both of us.
When Freya next spoke up, it was clear she was getting annoyed too. "I was going to tell you, Cassie. Soon."
"Well, thanks for that consideration," I sniped back. I shouldn't have told them about Anton. After all, Freya had seen no problem with keeping her relationship status with Eric a secret from me, at least for a while. And if I hadn't told them about Anton, we wouldn't have been standing here arguing over trivial matters.
But of course, I probably would've never gotten to know about Freya and Eric becoming exclusive. At least, not in the near future. Freya was a goddess at keeping secrets.
It was a virtue that worked against me, sometimes. Or – when it came to Eric – most of the time.
That thought pissed me off.
"Oh, grow up," Freya snapped. "I told you in the end, didn't I?"
"Only just, and only because Eric was going to spill the beans already," I pointed out. When I saw Freya shoot Eric a quick glare, I knew what I said had been the truth. They had had no intention of telling me. Possibly ever.
The discovery that your relationship with your best friends might not have been as close as you thought – that was a crappy thing to stumble upon in the midst of an argument.
I tried desperately to hold onto the anger, but it was already beginning to seep out of me. In its place came a dreadful feeling of loneliness.
"You know what," I said, very quietly. "I think I need some time alone."
"Why are you acting like the wronged party here?" Eric questioned, and I could still hear some hints of leftover anger leaking into his voice.
"Are you telling me to break it off with Anton? Is that it?"
Wouldn't that have been such a joke? To break it off before it had barely begun.
"Yes." Eric was staring me down.
I pushed out my chin and stared back. "Well, boo-hoo for you. I'm not going to do that."
"Cassie…" Freya trailed off. She had gone from being annoyed to being maternal. "You're just going to hurt him this way."
"I'm going to hurt him if I break it off barely two days after I've agreed to be his girlfriend," I pointed out.
"It's the lesser of two evils," said Freya, as if she were a saint.
I stared at her. "Well, aren't you the hypocrite?"
That annoyance that I thought had faded away sparked back to life. "Excuse me?" she asked incredulously. Eric had, by this time, made his way to her side and was silently watching the conversation between us. I felt like he was just waiting for a chance to pounce.
When had hanging out with my best friends become a game of prey and predator?
"Please, how many guys did you sleep with before you even met Eric?" I watched with grim satisfaction as her face paled.
As I'd said, Freya had been quite the slut.
"How many guys have you fucked and then left, Freya? How many hearts have you broken?" I pressed on mercilessly. A kind of sadistic joy was blossoming within me as I watched her face turn whiter with each word I uttered.
"You—" she croaked, but couldn't seem to manage to get anything else out. There were tears forming in her eyes. I hardened my heart against the sight.
Eric slipped an arm around Freya's waist and tugged her towards him. It was a testimony of how shaken up she was that she didn't brush him away.
"That was below the belt, Cassie," Eric said quietly. He was looking at me like I was a stranger – no, worse than a stranger. In his eyes, I was now someone who had hurt something precious to him, and consequently someone he despised.
It really was high time that they got together for real.
I refused to acknowledge the guilt gnawing at my gut. "You're hypocrites, the both of you," I said.
"Let's go," Eric murmured to Freya, who had managed to control her tears and was now standing icily proud. He directed his next words to me without looking back, "We'll see ourselves out."
Freya exited the room before Eric, but the moment Eric stepped out, she whirled back with a glittering death-glare. She brushed Eric's hands away, reached over to grab the doorknob, and slammed the door shut.
The door shuddered on its hinges.
I stared at the closed door and flopped back onto my bed with a sigh. An annoying wetness dampened the corner of my eyes.
And I hadn't even gotten to tell them that I would be going on my first date with Anton tomorrow.
Great, now there would be nobody around to advise me on what to wear.
I smiled tremulously at Anton when I opened the door – the same door Freya had slammed and almost broken with the amount of strength she'd used – approximately twenty-five hours later.
"Hey." He was smiling back at me. His smile was infinitely bigger and brighter than mine. I realized with a jolt that this was the first time I'd seen him with a big smile on his face. Was that because of me? Dread was starting to pool at the bottom of my stomach.
What if Eric and Freya – loathe as I was to admit it – had been right? What if I was just setting him up for more hurt?
I recalled the past times when I had inadvertently hurt Anton's feelings, and felt a pang. I didn't want to hurt him. He was too good for that.
And I never wanted to have to look into his beautiful green eyes and see the hurt reflected there, ever again.
"Maybe we shouldn't do this," I said in a small voice.
Anton's smile dimmed. He reached out to grab my hand. I jumped a little at the unexpected touch. "No," he countered, in a stronger tone of voice than any I'd ever heard him use. "You promised. You can't back out now."
"But I'm not over Siegfried," I mumbled. "I'll just hurt you…"
"I know that," he said, looking away for a moment before turning the full power of his gaze back on me. "And I don't care."
I was already beginning to close the door, blabbering excuses because I was suddenly afraid that I was going to cry. Eric and Freya's words were repeating themselves in my head, and my heart ached.
It ached because I had just thrown away two of the most wonderful friendships I'd ever had.
"It's really for the best—" I didn't know anymore if it was Anton or myself that I was trying to convince.
I could feel Anton's searing hot gaze on me. "What's wrong?" he finally asked.
"You know what's wrong," I tried to evade the question. "This just… isn't going to work out."
"Did someone try to change your mind?" he guessed.
Well, he had really hit the nail on the head with that one. I guess nobody could ever accuse Anton Karlsson of being unperceptive.
"I just don't feel like going out tonight," I said softly.
"Rain-check?" he suggested.
I hesitated, but he barreled on, "Can I come in?"
"I—" I started to say that I would prefer to be alone at the moment, then saw the expectant look on his face and sighed. "Okay, why not?" I stepped back to let him in. He stepped in, closing the door behind him.
We stared at each other for a moment.
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked softly.
I shook my head. I was suddenly struck with the urge to do something crazy. He was standing in front of me, in such close proximity that I could smell the warm musk of his scent radiating off him. His eyes were so green, so captivating. I breathed in deeply.
He smelt good.
"I don't want to talk," I whispered. I didn't know why I was whispering, but it seemed like the right thing to do right then. He was staring down at me, and I saw the exact moment his pupils dilated.
Hesitantly, I reached up and placed my hand on his chest. I relished in the warmth I felt radiating from under his button-down shirt. My hand crept up to touch his collarbone lightly.
He inhaled, but didn't exhale.
I felt a smile grace my lips, even though I didn't particularly feel like laughing at that moment. "You can breathe, Anton," I said teasingly, moving my hand further up to twine around his neck. I could feel his pulse jumping erratically under my fingers.
"Cassie," he breathed, and his eyes looked so dark that they were almost black, even under the bright fluorescent lights that lit the room.
Slowly, I pulled my body into full contact with his. I wound my arms around his neck and looked up into his face. Our lips were barely an inch apart.
We held eye contact for a long moment. Then his arms came up to hold me around the waist. After that I forgot who moved first, but before I knew it his lips were on mine, devouring me. I opened my mouth under his and he needed no more encouragement. His hand slid up to cup my cheek. A ragged sound tore from my throat and I pressed myself more fully against him. One of my hands reached up to pull lightly at his hair.
He broke away briefly to look me in the eye. "Cassie," he said in between quick kisses, "we should stop."
"We should," I agreed, even as I pulled his face back towards mine. I ran my hands daringly under his shirt and felt his sharp intake of breath. "But I don't want to."
He pulled away again, "It's not Siegfried you're thinking of?"
I laughed a little. "Hell, no." I stood on my tiptoes and brushed a fleeting kiss on his jaw. "I want you, Anton."
He smiled. "Okay." Then he picked me up and carried me over to my tiny dorm bed, while I struggled impatiently with the buttons on his shirt.
"You're beautiful," he whispered as he laid me gently on the bed. My heart skipped a bit, but I ignored it. Getting frustrated with the bottom two buttons that just refused to open, I tugged his shirt roughly apart and the two buttons flew out onto the floor.
I giggled a little, "Oops."
He just shrugged out of the shirt and bent down to kiss me as his fingers worked at my clothing. I shuddered and gasped when he succeeded in his endeavor and I felt the thrill of his bare skin against mine, "Anton…"
"Say my name again," he whispered against my mouth. His lips brushed against mine with every word, and the friction was delicious. My tongue darted out to lick his lips mischievously.
"Anton," I whispered back.
And then no more other words were exchanged for quite a little while.
The doubt sank in not just a few minutes after it was over.
Anton must have read something in my eyes, because he rolled away and fumbled for something at the head of the pillow. A minute later a blanket was flung across me. I grasped at it as if it was a life-raft and I was floating in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
While I set about mummifying myself inside of the blanket, Anton slid out of the bed in search of the various pieces of clothing that had been urgently tossed onto the floor just a few moments before.
I remembered doing most of the tossing and turned away in embarrassment. When I turned back, he was already clad in his boxers and standing at the foot of the bed, looking at me with an indecipherable expression.
"That was a mistake," I whispered.
He turned his back, but not before I saw his jaw clench. "Yes, it was," he said in a tone that sounded very much like he was trying to control himself. "I'm sorry."
It was hypocritical of me, but his quick agreement lodged a lump within my throat. I clutched the blanket more tightly against myself. Something seemed to shrivel up inside of me. A wave of insecurity I'd never felt came crashing down on me and I suddenly felt like I couldn't breathe. "You… you didn't… like it?"
Anton whirled around so quickly that I quite thought he would get whiplash. He glared at me, but his eyes softened when he saw me staring back at him anxiously. "I did," he said, taking a step towards me, then changing his mind and stopped where he was. "I did, Cassie, it's not that. It's not you."
"Is this the classic, 'it's not you, it's me' speech?" I asked faintly. "If it is… Seriously, just spare me the lecture."
"You were upset," Anton said with difficulty, "I shouldn't have…"
"It takes two," I said. I realized I still had a death grip on the blanket, and tried to loosen my hold a little.
He was silent for a while. Then, "We… I didn't use a condom."
"We didn't," I corrected. "It's okay, I'm on the pill. Please don't tell me you have some sort of STI."
"I don't," he said. "I'm clean."
"Okay," I said, awkwardly. "So am I."
There was an uncomfortable silence after this. I could feel my heart slowly sinking to the bottom of my stomach as each second ticked by and Anton still remained standing at the foot of the bed wordlessly.
"Are you going to leave now?" I asked finally. I hadn't meant for it to sound like I wanted him to leave, but he apparently interpreted it that way, because he stiffened and moved to collect the rest of his clothes.
"Okay," he said in a bland tone, as if he didn't care whether I wanted him to leave or stay. But I knew he cared. He had to. He had to.
I would just die if he didn't.
"I wasn't asking you to leave," I said quietly.
He'd managed to find all his clothes, and was in the processing of throwing them on, while I sat in bed, wrapped in only a blanket, watching him.
"Do you want me to stay?" he asked in return, putting on his shirt and looking at it in chagrin when he remembered how I'd popped the last two buttons. His shirt was rumpled and half-unbuttoned, his hair was sticking out messily, and I could see a glimpse of the top of his boxers peeking out from the gap where he couldn't button his shirt.
He looked like he'd just had some pretty damn crazy sex.
Who was I kidding? It had rocked my world. And now I didn't know where I stood anymore. He had blown through my world, and now he was leaving and I was terrified, and I was terrified of what that might mean.
"Do you want to stay?" I asked evasively.
He looked at me for a long moment, and then smiled dimly and said, "Yes. You know that."
"Do I?" I asked, almost imperceptibly, but then I took a deep breath and nodded. "Don't leave."
"I'll stay if you want me to," he sighed, then finally – finally – closed the gap between us and wrapped his arms around me. I hadn't known I had been waiting for it until I actually felt the weight of his embrace. Then I let out a small sigh of relief and let go of the blanket to hug him back. I sniffed, once, twice, but then I couldn't hold back the tears anymore.
I buried my face in his neck and started bawling.
Anton, in the process of re-wrapping the blanket around me, froze. Then he patted my back awkwardly, asking unsurely, "Did I… Did I hurt you?"
"No," I hiccupped, pulling back to look at him before I remembered I probably looked like a mess right then, and buried my face back into the crook of his neck. It was comfortable there. He was probably disgusted with me getting my snot all over him, though. I pulled away again. "I'm sorry. It's just… been a trying few days, that's all. I don't even know why I'm crying. Gosh. I'm usually not such a crybaby. And this is so gross, I've dripped snot all over you… Shit."
He chuckled and pulled me back onto him. "Wipe your nose on my shirt. I don't care."
I sniffled, but a smile cracked through. "No, I won't. That is so gross."
"Yes, it is," he said, while his fingers played with my hair absently. "But I don't care."
"I'm sorry about the buttons," I said, and then doubtfully, "Maybe I could help you sew them back on?"
"You sew?" he asked.
"No," I admitted. I laid my head on his chest so that I could hear the strong thump of his heartbeat. It was like I was listening in on the rhythm of the life that was beating within him. There was something infinitely intimate about that. "I can try, though."
I felt, rather than heard, his laugh vibrate through his chest. "It's okay," he said. "I have other shirts."
There was a part of me that was slightly disappointed at the thought of not being able to sew for him. And I wasn't even the domestic kind… I shook my head in disgust at myself. Great job, Cassie. You sleep with the guy once and now you're acting like a clinging vine.
What the heck was wrong with me?
I pulled away from Anton, ignoring how my body was berating me for taking away the warmth that it had been enjoying, and said, in an attempt to redeem my dignity, "Sorry about that. I don't know what's come over me; maybe it's PMS or something."
Anton looked slightly disturbed at the mention of my period – hah, ruined the moment pretty well, hadn't I? – but a tiny smile was tugging at the corner of his lips when he said, "Don't apologize. I like holding you."
Damn. But he could be so sweet.
Then I mentally rolled my eyes at the sappy sop I had become. I usually found lines like that nauseating. But coming from Anton, they seemed more genuine than anything else.
Siegfried, I reminded myself hastily. I still had feelings for Siegfried…
I cleared my throat, which had suddenly turned very dry. "So," I said briskly, as if I were talking about a business contract, "where do we stand now?"
A slight frown had creased his brow. "I thought we'd settled this," he said.
I folded my arms, as if a simple gesture such as that could keep him out. "Well, I don't want to be your girlfriend."
His eyes suddenly went blank, just like a couple minutes ago when he'd thought I was asking him to leave. I'd hurt him again.
I scrambled to sit a little further from him, feeling awkward with the proximity now that the conversation had turning such a turn. I had wrapped the blanket back around myself, but I was painfully aware that I should've gotten dressed before attempting this conversation. Now I felt like my nakedness had put me at a disadvantage.
Anton was still perched on my bed, his legs stretched out over the edge onto the floor. He was watching me with cool green eyes.
"Oh?" he uttered a single neutral syllable.
His lack of speech was even worse than if he had pounced on me and started demanding answers. A tendril of unease surfaced to wrap itself around my heart. It squeezed, and I felt my heart constrict painfully.
"It's just… You're a good friend, Anton," I registered his flinch and bit my lip. "But I really don't see us in a relationship like that."
His gaze was unwavering. "Even after…"
I found that I couldn't quite look him in the eye anymore. I looked down to stare at a spot on my bed-sheets and said softly, "Just because we slept together, doesn't mean I'm looking for a relationship with you."
"Then what do you want?" There was a note of harshness in his voice. I still couldn't look up, because I didn't want to know what expression he was wearing.
"I don't know," I said honestly. "I don't know what I want, but… we're good as friends, aren't we?"
He tried one more time, "Just now… What we… It doesn't mean anything to you?"
"No," I lied. "I was upset and I needed something to take my mind off… I'm sorry. It was just sex, you know?"
I heard the rustle of his clothes as Anton shifted to stand up. "Yeah," he said quietly, after a long moment. "It was just sex."
Footsteps sounded and I knew he was going to leave. I heard the door creak open. There was a brief pause and I knew he was probably standing in the doorway, with one hand on the doorknob, looking back at me.
I continued to stare unseeingly at my bed.
"Take care, Cassie," he said finally, before the door softly slid shut in a sound of finality.
"Hey!" Maja smiled, but her smile seemed a little forced.
I supposed that she had already heard of what I'd done to her brother. It had been nearly a week, after all. Five whole days after I'd all but chased Anton out of my room with my cutting lies. It was starting to seem like all I did to the Karlsson twins was lie.
I had been dreading this Marketing class for the past five days, knowing it would make for major awkwardness since this was the one class that I shared with both Karlssons. I didn't think I could handle sitting beside Anton for three hours, pretending to listen to the professor go through marketing strategies while all I wanted to do was… Well, I didn't know what I wanted to do, but I knew it somehow involved Anton and groveling until he forgave me. Until he smiled at me again. Until he looked at me in that way that made me feel like I was the only person that mattered in the world, again.
I hadn't heard from him, or caught a glimpse of him around campus, at all for the past five days, and I was beginning to realize that maybe he had been right when he had said he could be Siegfried's substitute. He had succeeded in replacing Siegfried entirely. And now I found that what little I remembered of Siegfried paled in comparison to him.
Even worse was, I often found myself realizing that I'd forgotten all about Siegfried, because my thoughts were so consumed with Anton.
I was already looking away, searching for another vacant seat in the lecture theatre when Maja spoke up again, more amiably this time,
"Are you not sitting down, Cassie?"
I looked back at her in surprise. "Sorry," I said, gingerly lowering myself into the seat next to hers, "I just assumed…"
Maja was biting her lip nervously. "Cassie," she said suddenly, "are you really in love with Sieg?"
I froze. Of all the questions that I'd expected that day, this was the last.
"What?" I croaked.
Maja's hand fluttered to cover my mouth. Her eyes were wide with horror. "It's true?" she whispered.
"No!" I exclaimed. "No, I'm definitely not in love with Siegfried."
And cue the moment of dawning realization. I suddenly felt like I couldn't breathe. It was like all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle had fallen into place all at once, but I was still standing there, with an extra piece in my hand.
It was the piece that had never fit into the puzzle in the first place.
It was an epiphany so intense, I could've sworn I saw bright light and angels float about before my eyes for a moment.
Then I was snapped back to reality by Maja's soft voice. "Please don't lie to me, Cassie," she said, sounding miserable. "Sieg told me all about it."
I could hardly believe my ears. I must have become delusional from the lack of Anton in my life, because I could've sworn Maja Karlsson had just told me that her boyfriend had told her that I was in love with him. "He did what?"
"I mean," she corrected herself, wrapping her arms around herself in a show of vulnerability, "he did not say it that way, but I guessed. He said you were always talking to him, looking at him, smiling… Cassie," she whispered, "It sounded like you're in love with him."
One week ago, I might have been embarrassed to be called out like that, but now I only felt mild irritation. "What rubbish," I said bluntly. "Okay, fine, it's true I used to have a little crush on him… before you became his girlfriend," I hastily added when I saw Maja's crestfallen look, "But I don't feel anything for him anymore."
Maja looked like she wanted to believe me, but didn't quite dare to. "Really?"
"Yes," I said impatiently. "And what were the two of you doing, gossiping about me, anyway?"
She flushed lightly. "We were not… gossiping. I was just telling him about how you and I met, and he mentioned how friendly you were, always seeking him out to talk to him… I jumped to conclusions."
"Siegfried thinks I'm friendly?" I wanted to laugh. It was apparent I had been wasting my time with that crush, because if someone could remain this oblivious even after one year's worth of constant pestering, he was obviously not interested.
"Yes," Maja said, smiling, happy again now that she had affirmed I wasn't harboring secret feelings for her boyfriend. "He's glad I became friends with you."
"Well," I said, for lack of a better thing to say. Who knew? Siegfried Kloibhofer thought I would make a good friend for his girlfriend.
It was the most hilarious thing I had heard all week.
Then my mood plummeted back down to below ground-level when I saw the doors open, bringing with it the arrival of Anton Karlsson.
He glanced at and saw us immediately – not a hard thing to do, considering the three of us had sat in the same spot for the past two classes – but unlike per usual, he only cast a fleeting smile in our direction, coupled with a vague wave, before he calmly turned to the next row and sat down in the first vacant seat.
Then he turned to the person next to him and started talking. I knew he was introducing himself because after a moment, the both of them shook hands.
Maja was watching the actions of her brother with a puzzled frown. "What is he doing?" she questioned, somewhat rhetorically.
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. It would seem that Anton had deliberately left his sister in the dark about what had transpired between us. I wondered if he would be angry if I told Maja what had happened.
Then again, maybe I wanted to make Anton angry. If he got mad at me, he would probably seek me out the same way he had the very first time we'd met – and then I'd have an excuse to talk to him.
Pathetic, I knew.
"Maybe he's avoiding me," I said to Maja.
Maja looked bewildered. "Why would he do that? He likes you."
I felt a pang somewhere within my chest. I cleared my throat, "Not anymore, I don't think."
That got me Maja's undivided attention. She turned her gaze from Anton – he seemed to be getting along fine with his seatmate, I observed – onto me. "What happened?"
I swallowed. What was a good way to put this? I had to remember I was speaking to Anton's twin sister, not just some unbiased bystander. It was quite likely that Maja would chew me out for hurting her brother. "We slept together," I said slowly.
Maja just nodded like it was no big deal. "Okay, and?"
"And then I told him it meant nothing to me and I didn't want to be his girlfriend… and he left," I said in a rush.
"Oh," Maja nodded knowingly. "That means he's sulking."
"What?" I wondered at Maja's calm attitude. Wasn't she even the slightest bit mad at me for using her brother like a performing stud?
"He's kind of brat," Maja said with a little smile that reminded me so much of Anton right then. "When he doesn't get what he wants, he sulks."
"Okay, why aren't you angry?" I finally asked.
Maja pursed her lips thoughtfully. She shook her head slowly, "I'm sad for Anton, but you can't help it if you don't return his feelings. He'll get over it."
That last statement of hers sent an unpleasant jolt through me. The image of Anton doing what he'd done to me, saying what he'd said to me, to another girl flashed through my mind. I could feel my stomach twisting.
"Who says I don't return his feelings?" I murmured, looking down at my hands in my lap. They were clasped together tightly.
Maja's head snapped up. Her green eyes, very much like her brother's, sought mine. "Are you serious?" she asked, a smile beginning to light up her face. "You like my brother too?"
"I guess so," I said, a little embarrassed.
"You should tell him," Maja said excitedly. I had forgotten how much of a sucker she was for romance and the like.
"He's kind of… avoiding me," I pointed out.
"Corner him and kiss him," Maja suggested. And then she made a face, "That is kind of gross, is it not?"
"Kissing him?" I laughed, "That's not gross at all." I shot her a meaningful look.
Maja laughed with me. "Stop, Cassie! I do not want to think of my brother kissing."
I sobered. "Do you think he still…"
"Likes you?" Maja filled in for me when I hesitated. "Of course he does. If he did not, he would not be avoiding you."
"So avoidance is a good thing?" I asked doubtfully.
Maja nodded firmly. "It shows that he cares."
I looked over to Anton, who still seemed to be deeply engrossed in conversation with his new friend. He looked like he was having a ball of a time, not like someone who was nursing a broken heart. It didn't look like he cared.
I turned when I felt a light touch at my elbow.
Maja was looking at me sympathetically. "He cares," she repeated.
I tried to smile at her, "I hope so."
But there was a part of me that was certain that I had had my chance with Anton, and blown it.
The past week had taken its toll on me. Not only had I lost my two best friends, I'd also made a hash of things with Anton, only to discover afterward that I had actually fallen – hard – for him.
I could really be so stupid sometimes.
The one good thing that had happened was that Maja's confrontation – actually, it had been more like a miserable inquiry on her part – had forced me to face up to the discovery that I had well and truly gotten over Siegfried. Plus, at least I still had a friend in Maja. Before she'd left for lunch with Sieg – she had invited me along, of course, but I had turned her down because I had no desire to be a third wheel – Maja had tried to comfort me by telling me that she'd speak with her brother and try to test the waters for me.
I was secretly hoping that Anton would be furious that I'd tattled to his sister, and come stomping to my door.
But two days after that Marketing class and there was still no sight or sign of Anton, I had to admit that it had been a stupid plan. Of course he wasn't going to show up at my doorstep just because I had told his sister all about what had happened between us.
The prolonged absence of Anton, as well as that of my two best friends, was starting to wear on me. I was slowly sinking into a frenzied state of depression.
I needed something to change, and quickly.
So when I was heading out the school compound on Thursday and saw the familiar sight of Freya and Eric bickering while heading for Eric's car, I just about dropped all my books and ran.
Alright, I exaggerated. I wasn't carrying any books; they were all stashed safely inside of my bag. But I did walk, as quickly as seemed natural, towards them. They were so engrossed in their own conversation that Eric only glanced up and noticed me when I was right behind Freya.
"Cassie," he said, thus alerting Freya of my presence. Freya had been in the middle of a sentence, but she immediately clamped her mouth shut and whirled around to face me. I took the lack of malice in Eric's voice as a good sign. However, there was also a marked lack of friendly smiles on both of their faces.
I tried to break the ice by smiling uncertainly. "Hi."
Freya didn't smile back, but she did say softly, "Hi, Cassie."
The three of us stood there, staring at each other like strangers. And I could feel a wave of sourness rushing to the back of my eyes. How had all these years' of friendship deteriorated to this awkward silence?
"I'm sorry!" I blurted out, only to realize belatedly that Freya had said the exact same thing, at the exact same time.
It was then that I knew everything was going to be okay.
We both laughed a little. I rushed on, the words coming easily now that the ice was shattered, "Freya, I shouldn't have said those things to you. I'm not judging you for doing the things you do, but I was so angry and I just…"
"I know," she interrupted. "I know. And I also know that no matter what you say, you're a judgmental person, Cassie." She smiled here to show that it was a matter-of-fact statement, rather than an accusation. "You're like my moral compass. You were the one who told me I shouldn't be playing with those guys' feelings back then, remember?"
I remembered. "You didn't listen to me, though," I pointed out, smiling in nostalgia.
"I did," Freya corrected me, "I stayed away from all the nice guys."
I about choked, "So that is why all the guys you were with at that time were such scum bugs."
"You're like my moral compass, Cassie," Freya continued, "so that's why you seemed to be practicing the opposite of what you preached when you got with Anton… and it made me mad that you'd play with his feelings like that, after everything you always told me."
I hadn't thought of it that way. "I'm sorry," I said quietly.
"Yeah, well, but," Freya waved it off, "you were right. Who am I to judge? And at least you've been perfectly honest with Anton about your feelings for him."
Well, maybe it was better if I didn't tell her about what had led to my current situation with Anton yet.
I turned to look at Eric. He was watching the both of us, and when I looked at him hopefully he opened his mouth.
"I'm not a scum bug."
I stared at him, uncomprehending, so he had to explain, "You said Freya was only with guys that were scum bugs. I'm not a scum bug."
Freya rolled her eyes. "No, you were just the residential playboy who slept with women and didn't call them the next day."
Eric gave her a significant look. "I called you though, didn't I?" He paused, and then continued with a displeased twist of his mouth, "And you hung up on me."
"Cassie made me," Freya revealed. Both pairs of eyes turned to me, one in amusement, one accusingly.
"You were the reason I was humiliated that day, Cassie?" Eric demanded.
I shrugged. "I thought you were a nice guy. Freya was going to break your heart."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Freya quipped, but without any malevolence. She knew why I'd grabbed the phone from her and jabbed the 'end call' button that day. She'd yelled at me, and then I'd spelt it out for her why Eric Myers was a bad guy to screw over. Or just screw repeatedly, really.
Eric let out a short laugh, obviously delighted. "Really? You were trying to protect me from the big, bad Freya?"
"I see now that I should've just left you to fend for yourself," I deadpanned.
Eric reached over to ruffle my hair. "It's the thought that counts, Cassie."
"Don't mess up my hair," I whined, slapping his hand away. Of course, that only spurred him on to make more of a mess of my hair.
"I shouldn't have meddled," Eric said, after he was finally done torturing me. "I mean, I still don't approve of your dating Anton as a rebound, but it's your business. I had no right to meddle."
I knew that was as close to an apology that I would ever get from him.
I shrugged and gave a strained smile. "Then maybe you'll be happy to hear that we… uh… we're not together now."
Both Eric and Freya looked taken aback by my revelation.
I took a deep breath, "And you were right. Both of you. I really did just end up hurting him… I should've just listened to you." But if I had, maybe I wouldn't have discovered that somewhere inside of me, there was a part that had already fallen head over heels for Anton Karlsson the moment I'd met him.
Or maybe it had been the moment he'd asked me out and I'd rejected him, only to realize that he hadn't been joking.
Or maybe it had been when I'd really gotten to know him and we had spent all of our free time texting each other, day and night.
Or maybe it had been that split second when he had looked me in the eye and told me I was beautiful, and I had seen that beauty reflected in his eyes.
Or maybe it had all been slowly and stealthily building up inside my heart, like a burglar creeping into your empty house at night. And the alarms had gone off, but I hadn't realized what they had meant until it had been too late.
"And how do you feel about that?" the psychiatrist in Freya was looking at me calculatingly.
I usually hated it when Freya tried to psychoanalyze me, but now I just said honestly, "I feel miserable."
Freya let out a whoop and threw her hands into the air in a universal gesture of triumph.
"I hadn't pegged you as a sadist," I informed Freya glibly.
"Why are you so happy?" Eric was a little slower on the uptake.
"Cassie is in love with Anton," Freya sang.
"It's not love yet," I said quickly. Then I mumbled under my breath, "At least, I hope not."
"Yet," Eric repeated incredulously. "Seriously?"
I stayed diplomatically silent, but couldn't stop my cheeks from heating up.
"Look, she's blushing," Freya cooed. "Isn't that cute?"
I glared at her, and almost missed Eric's bewildered question, "Then why did you break up with him?"
"I wouldn't really call it a break up," I muttered, "we were barely together – wait, what makes you think I was the one who ended it?"
"It wasn't?" Eric looked bowled over.
"He was the one who left," I informed him self-righteously.
There was a silence, and then Freya exclaimed, "Impossible! That boy was head over heels in love with you."
"He was not," I argued. "He just… had… sort of… romantic feelings… for me… I guess."
"I ought to shake her," Freya commented to Eric, before turning back to me. "Are you blind? The way he looked at you… it was totally nauseating! Anyone could see he was crazy for you."
Eric nodded in agreement. "Why do you think I was so against you using him as a rebound?"
Something was beginning to bloom in the region of my heart. "Really?"
"Did you say something to make him leave?" Freya persisted. When I responded with shamefaced silence, she raised a finger. "Aha! Told you."
"I slept with him," I said.
"What!" Freya screeched. "Already? When was this?"
"The day after we argued," I filled her in obligingly. "Sorry I'm not much of a moral compass anymore."
Freya made a puffing noise. "Sheesh! He's, like, what – the second guy you've ever slept with in your life? You're practically a prude."
"Yeah," I nodded, in response to her question. Not the prude part.
The first guy ever had been Karl, whom I'd dated for close to two years in high school. Towards the end, the feelings had gotten diluted and it had become quite obvious that we were definitely not meant for each other. We had parted on amiable terms – or at least I liked to think so. We'd agreed to stay friends, but we all knew how that sort of promises turned out.
"Finally, you get to compare," Freya said gleefully. "So who's better, Anton or Karl?"
"Anton," I replied promptly. I could feel myself blushing again, and I normally wasn't even a blusher. "He was really amazing…"
Eric groaned. "I really don't need to hear this."
Freya, however, grabbed me in a bear hug. "I'm so happy for you, Cassie! I told you he would be awesome in the sack."
"Um," I said, "you didn't."
"I'm not hearing this," Eric was muttering to himself.
"I told you he was major hotness," Freya reminded me, "when we were at the movies."
"Okay," I agreed just to placate her. "Can you get off me now? I feel like I can't breathe."
Freya let me go and said excitedly, "We should go on a double date."
"Did watching The Thin Line together count as a double date?" Eric wanted to know.
"No, because they weren't together then," Freya said.
"Um, guys?" I waved to get their attention. "There's a slight glitch in your double-dating plans… Anton and I aren't together."
Freya stared at me like I was being deliberately obtuse. "Well then, get back together with him!"
I frowned at her. "It really isn't that simple…"
"What could be simpler?" Freya retorted. "Tell him you love him, and then you can all live happily ever after!"
"It isn't that simple…" Or was it? I shoved my hands into my pockets, "Plus, he's avoiding me."
"I can solve that problem for you," Eric said suddenly. He cupped his hands around his mouth and hollered, practically startling the skin out of Freya and I, who had no idea what he was doing, "Anton! Come here a second, will ya?"
I whirled around and realized to my horror that Anton was walking over with a questioning look on his face. He stopped about an arm's length away from me.
"Hey," he greeted Eric and Freya, and then he paused. "Hi, Cassie."
"Hi," I tried to say normally. The word came out sounding more like a squeak.
Eric turned his laugh into a cough. "Anton, man," he said amiably, "do you need a ride?"
Anton glanced at Eric's car, and then turned to look at the other end of the car park. "Uh… I have a car..." he began to say, but Eric beamed and clapped him on the back.
"Great! Cassie here, uh, lost her car. Freya and I are going to have sex, so could you give her a ride? Thanks, man." Then he all but shoved Freya into his car before walking around the front to slide into the driver's seat.
"Have sex? Seriously, that was the only thing you could think of?" I faintly heard Freya start complaining as the car roared to life and shot out of the parking lot. We watched them peal out onto the main road and vanish from sight.
"Uh… okay…?" Anton said, apparently rendered bewildered by what had just transpired right before his eyes.
I laughed awkwardly. "Eric, he's really weird, huh?"
Anton gave a small smile and shifted uncomfortably. "Did you… uh, really lose your car?"
I couldn't stop myself from giving him a skeptical look. "No, that was just a stupid excuse he came up with to leave the two of us alone."
"Ah… Okay, then." He hesitated for a while, then took a step back. "I'll just be going now…"
I knew that if I let him leave now, I probably wouldn't see him for another year or two, or however long it was until he decided he was going to stop avoiding me. "Wait," I put out my hand to stop him. He stopped short when he felt my hand close around his arm.
He turned back to look at me inquiringly.
"I… uh, I need to talk to you," I said bravely.
"Okay," Anton said slowly, "do you want to go to my car or—" Then he expelled his breath all at once when I all but ran into him.
Well, that had been stupid. I'd run into him so hard that I'd basically knocked the breath out of myself as well. As I tried to catch my breath, his hands came around me to steady me and he peered at me in confusion.
Since he had conveniently already bent his head closer to mine, I took the opportunity to stand on my tiptoes and planted a clumsy kiss on his lips. Anton froze and wouldn't move, so I took it upon myself to try to coax his lips open with my kiss. After a moment of futile effort I realized I was practically mauling him in the middle of the car park, and pulled away, my face flaming in mortification.
He hadn't even responded. And to think I'd thought it was programmed into every guy to respond instinctively when a girl planted one on them. Well, that had sure told me.
"Um, never mind. Sorry," I squeaked, and then made for blessed escape.
"Hey, wait." Anton caught me by the arm and pulled me back to face him. "What was that?"
"That was a kiss," I snapped, my tone sharp from the humiliation of being rejected. "I'm sorry you're too sheltered to recognize one when you feel it."
"I know what a kiss is," Anton slid his hands up my arms, making me shiver in the process, to rest on my shoulders. "Why did you kiss me?"
"Stupid question," I said irritably. "Because the aliens in my head held me at gunpoint and told me to. Because I wanted to, duh."
"Because you want more meaningless sex?" Anton asked mildly.
I looked at him slyly through my eyelashes. "Would you be up for it if I did?"
He shrugged. "I wouldn't mind."
I took a deep breath, "What about… uh, un-meaningless sex?"
"Un-meaningless sex?" He looked perplexedly at me. "Is there such a word?"
"No, I mean," I stumbled over my words and made an annoyed face. "There's no such word, okay? I made it up."
"Cassie, what are you trying to say?" He smiled at me, a smile that combined uncertainty, hope, and amusement all in one. The bastard. He already knew what I was going to say. Or had at least made a very good estimate.
I finally decided to take Freya's advice, just for once.
"Anton, I love you," I declared, with all the passion of the cheesy Disney music, the soaring birds, and a choir of singing angels.
Anton looked like the sun had risen in his eyes. "Really?"
I wanted to say yes, I really did. But Freya had been wrong. I still wasn't quite sure if I was in love with Anton… And I couldn't lie to him about this. Not even as a white lie.
Damn, Freya's advice sucked.
"No," I said. I was going to continue, I swear I was, but the dejected look on Anton's face cause my words to catch in my throat.
The light in Anton's eyes had shut off abruptly. "Then why did you say it?" he asked. He sounded fed up. I'd never seen a fed up Anton. Maybe he'd really had enough of me and my nonsense. He took his hands off my shoulders and turned away. "Don't play with me, Cassie."
He started striding off quickly, and this time I had to run after him. He had really long legs. For every stride he took, I had to sprint for four steps to cover the same distance.
"Anton, wait! Dammit, I said wait! Anton!"
He continued walking away, and I knew I wasn't going to be able to catch up with him. Tears of frustration dotted my eyes. What would make him slow down? And then the answer came to me.
I gauged the distance between us. He was still within earshot.
It was then that I took a calculated trip. I fell onto the rough surface of the road with a grunt. Okay, I hadn't planned for it to hurt so much. I studied my aching knee and realized I'd landed in an unfortunate position. On top of everything, I now had a scraped elbow.
"Great," I muttered to myself, forgetting all about my plan to get Anton to turn back for a moment.
And then I heard a sudden screech of tires from behind me. I turned around just in time to see the fender of a car rushing towards me.
"Holy shit," I breathed, too stunned to do anything else.
I was going to die.
I was going to die.
I was going to die… and all because of my stupid plan to trip and fall in the middle of the road.
Damn, I should've chosen a better place.
The pavement, maybe?
Great, now I was going to die and Anton would never know how I really felt about him. I hoped my friends would be kind enough to break the news to him after my death.
Then again, maybe it would be kinder to let him continue thinking that I had only been playing him. What did it matter anyway? I would be dead.
"What the fuck are you doing?" The irate driver of the Honda that had been about to run me over stuck his head out the window and barked at me. "Are you trying to get yourself killed? Who the fuck sits in the middle of the fucking road!"
"Um…" I blinked dazedly. I wasn't dead.
The car had stopped mere inches away from me.
Well, would you look at that? I was still alive.
I took a deep breath and savored the feeling of clean, fresh air in my lungs.
Oh, who was I kidding? The air smelt like exhaust fumes and pollute. But that didn't matter. What mattered was that I was still alive to breathe in this dirty, polluted city air.
Life was good.
I suddenly felt myself being picked up bridal style and pressed against a warm body. I tilted my head back and saw Anton's worried green eyes scanning my body, as if mentally canvassing my wounds and injuries.
"Your elbow is bleeding," he said quietly.
"Oh, yeah," I suddenly remembered, "that was from the fall."
"Keep your bitch on leash next time, man!" The driver of the Honda called nastily, before flooring the accelerator and zooming off.
Anton barely flicked him a glance.
"Are you okay, Cassie?" he asked, still fixing those worried eyes on me. Well, I had well and truly gotten his attention now, it seemed.
"That guy is rude," I voiced my current line of thought.
"He could have hit you," Anton said, and I heard the dread in his voice. I felt his grip tighten on me as he all but crushed me against his chest. "Thank God."
I wrapped my arms around Anton's neck. He was shaking a little. "You're shaking," I said, wonderingly. He had really been scared. It was the first time a guy – that I wasn't related to – had cared enough to start shaking at the thought of me being dead.
Something warm filled my heart.
"Thank God," Anton murmured again hoarsely, dipping his head to nuzzle my neck. That reminded me of what I had been about to do just before this life-threatening incident had taken place.
"Anton," I said, putting my hands on both sides of his head to bring it back up so that I could look him in the eye, "I don't know if I love you… yet, but I really, really, really like you. I want to be your girlfriend… I mean, if you still want to… I…"
"Thank God," Anton repeated, looking a little dazed. I wasn't quite sure he had fully absorbed what I had just said to him, but then he bent his hand and kissed me.
In that one kiss, I could feel every strand of his desperation, fear, hope, relief, and… love.
"I love you, Cassie," he breathed, and then after we had both caught our breaths, he set me back down on my feet. He kept his arms around my waist, just in case I wasn't steady yet enough to stand on my own. And I couldn't be sure that I was, after a kiss like that.
"Do you mean that?" he asked, at length. He was referring to what I'd last said, about being his girlfriend.
"Yeah," I said. "And it wasn't only because of the thing with the car… I was already going to tell you that before you started walking off."
"Shit," he said, the first time I'd heard him curse. "I almost got you killed."
"Well, I'm not dead," I pointed out, neglecting to mention that I had been dead certain that I was going to die. "So quit beating yourself up about it. It's not your fault."
"You'll be my girlfriend now?" The boy's mind moved so fast, I wasn't sure I could catch up.
"Yes," I said anyway, a little shyly, "I mean, if you still want me to…"
"I want you to," he said, straightforward as always. "What changed your mind?"
I bit my lip. This was embarrassing. "After you left, I… I just – couldn't stop thinking about you… And then I realized I didn't care about Siegfried that way anymore… You've kind of replaced him."
"Really?" He was suddenly grinning. I stared in wonder at the picture he made when he grinned like that. I had been wrong – he had been my type all along. I'd just been too biased to look past his reserved façade and see it.
"You know what?" I told him. "I think maybe you're exactly my type, after all."
—In a relationship with Anton Karlsson—
A/N: Another one-shot! I don't know how this one turned out to be so freakin' long. It was meant to be a New Year's story, but I just kept writing and deleting and getting stuck and then writing and deleting again, so I've only just completed it. I'm not very happy with the ending, but school's starting in two days and I don't have time to write and re-write anymore.
So ends the story of Cassie and Anton.
The plot was inspired by my finding out that my crush had gotten himself a Swedish girlfriend when I saw it on his Facebook page one day. It was slightly before the end of 2010, and when I told my friends, it turned out that THEY ALREADY KNEW. Apparently my friends saw them together one day after exams had just ended. They just didn't want to tell me because it would spoil my Christmas break. Hahaha!
This is the longest one-shot I've written yet, and I was deliberating on whether to split it up into two chapters. And then decided that I'm way too lazy. So here it is. I hope you read it all to the end, because I've put a lot of effort into writing it! Please tell me if you spot any mistakes, because I wrote this over the span of 21 days and I'm not quite sure if all the things in it match up.
AND PLEASE REVIEW! It would mean the world to me :)