She didn't know how it happened, but she was on Xavier Cohen's list.
Somewhere in the midst of scheduled-interviews-gone-wrong, chance encounters, hospital meetings, they formed some sort of relationship, that only progressed from there when Xavier somehow decided he liked being with her, and Artemis decided that she didn't mind him at all. She suspected it had to do with the fact she didn't really know him, and he had issues he didn't want to discuss with his friends. In the end, she didn't mind, because he didn't know that hearing and dissecting his problems kept her from thinking of her own.
Unlike Xavier, she couldn't confide in him. It didn't have anything to do with him as a person, or whether or not she trusted him, Artemis just simply couldn't… say anything to anyone. Not yet, not when she was still reeling.
"Hey," Rosie nudged her, and Artemis jolted in her seat. Only then did she realize she'd been drifting off. Rosie's eyebrows were furrowed in concern. "Are you okay? You usually love Lancaster's lecture."
Artemis yawned. "I didn't get much sleep," she muttered. It was true. Noah liked to stay awake during the night. Not for the first time did she wonder where his mother was. She didn't leave a number, or an address. Artemis didn't dare think the possibility of her never coming back.
Too late. A chill crawled down her back, probably the fifth one of the day. She'd left Noah to the care of a close family friend who used to baby-sit her and Clara when they were young. The urge to check in was overwhelming, and she wondered how her father was handling the situation. His reaction wasn't what she expected, but then again, she was expecting the worse. All he did was mutter angrily about Emily. It wasn't as if he ignored Noah, but he… wasn't as receptive as she'd hoped.
What did she expect? Artemis tried not to lean her head on her desk. Thank God he was still a baby. He wouldn't remember this awful situation.
"I'd like the first part of your assignments," the voice cut through her thoughts. "But first I'd like for you to get with your partners and evaluate their progress."
There was a resounding groan. Artemis, for once, agreed.
"I didn't finish my interviews," Artemis grunted.
"I don't think he expects all interviews." Rosie flipped through her binder. "Only the impressions paragraph."
"Oh," Artemis said in distaste. She stared down at her messy writing. "He did say to be brutally honest."
Rosie peeked over, reading silently. After several moments, she pulled back with her mouth hanging open.
"You do realize Maya's going to read that?"
"I am aware."
A smirk began to lift Rosie's lips. "That's great. Really."
"You mean I'm dead," Artemis said in a could-care-less tone.
"Good luck," was all her friend said.
With a sigh, Artemis glanced to her partner who was, conveniently, glancing coolly in her direction, arms crossed over her desk. Well, it was obvious she was the one who had to move.
"Hey." Artemis plopped on the seat in front of Maya. The class' volume rose to a loud chatter, and around her she could see partners laughing and playfully scowling at exchanged sheets. This assignment practically provoked bloodshed. Then again, maybe Artemis wasn't giving the girl enough credit. With smile, she pushed the sheet to Maya. "Don't hate me."
"How could I?" she said, a bit sardonically, but the smile on her face was pleasant.
Artemis quickly read over Maya's own paragraph. Words popped out at her. Aloof. Smart. Determined. Superior. A snob in her own right. Cold. Unapproachable. Two-faced. Manipulative.
Incredulously, Artemis lifted her eyes just to see Maya quickly school the dirty expression on her face to a neutral expression.
"You look manipulative," Maya corrected graciously, and pointed down to Artemis' own sheet. The expression on her face was suddenly tight. "I'm clingy?"
Artemis couldn't help her tone. "You look clingy." Which, she realized, wasn't the right way to go.
Maya leaned back in her seat. "Enlighten me."
Oh jeez. Was this part of the interaction? "Relax, Maya. Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't. The fact is, you follow Xavier around like a lost puppy." Artemis tried to sound gentle, she really did, but judging from the ferocious scowl on her partner's face, she most likely took it the wrong way.
"He's my best friend," she retorted scathingly. "I know it's hard for you to comprehend, having no close friends and all, but friends like spending time with each other. They don't need the excuse of a stupid assignment to be around."
Artemis stared at her, speechless. What the hell did she say to that? She didn't expect her to go on attack. "Oh," she heard herself say, soft and distant. Artemis drummed her fingers on her desk, desperately trying to keep her mind from wandering. "I know you're best friends. All I'm saying is—"
"Whatever," Maya said cuttingly. "Let's just get on with this."
For the remainder of the twenty minutes of class, they filled out the progress sheet. Artemis didn't even want to think how Maya was destroying her on paper. At the end of class, Maya swept both sheets and handed it to Mr Lancaster.
"Maya," Artemis called when the girl was to reach Xavier. She automatically turned, but seemed to freeze when she saw her. Artemis sighed. She had enough on her plate to ruminate about without this unnecessary strain between her partner. "Look, I'm sorry if I offended you, but—"
"But it was just impressions, I know," she finished softly and mockingly. "Yeah, I understand."
Artemis stared. "Okay," she said slowly.
"Hey," Xavier said, grin evident in his voice. Artemis lifted her gaze to see Naomi wave as she left the classroom. Xavier shoved his hands into his pockets, shifting from foot to foot. "How'd it go?"
"Fine," Maya said distantly and turned. "Let's go."
Artemis smiled tightly at his brief look of confusion, as he reached to clasp her to his side. Startled, she tried to pull away, but he held on fast. To her absolute horror, she felt her face start to flame and she could barely keep herself from sounding flustered.
"This is nice. Please let me go," she gritted through clenched teeth when his grip tightened.
"I'm taking you for dinner," he said as if she were dimwitted. "Thanks, by the way, for telling the owner of the damn restaurant not to listen to a word I say. You're lucky I'm not taking legal action."
Artemis couldn't stop the smile on her face if she tried. "You're going to sue Riveria for not letting you pay your bill?"
"I could, if I wanted to," he said, walking her out the door. He waved at Lancaster with his free arm. Artemis could only smile weakly at her teacher's amusement. Lancaster's thoughts were most likely along the lines of, Oh teenagers. Young, stupid and gullible. The thought made her embarrassed and slightly annoyed. "I'd rather torture you though."
"Lovely." She smirked. "As much as I enjoy your charm and sunny personality," —she made sure to glower at his pleased expression— "I have to pick Noah up from his sitter."
His smile faded slightly. "His mother isn't back?"
Artemis straightened as his grip loosened and she sighed. "No."
He frowned, and hesitated. "Do you think she…"
Artemis shook her head sharply. "No. I mean…" She sighed. "I don't know. It's fine. I'll talk to you later."
"Bring him," Xavier said firmly, his hand around her wrist. "Or I'll order in. Either way, I'm paying you back someway or another."
Artemis stared at him. "You know, you're really…" she squinted, "…persistent."
If anything his grin widened. Maya had a strangely neutral look on her face at the exchange, but Artemis knew the danger signs of a rabid female. Well, judging from high school experience, and contrary to Maya, from Artemis' close friends. They just didn't attend the same school as her.
And Artemis didn't sleep with her close friends. Just felt like throwing that out there.
"You're not coming to Sven's?" Maya said.
"Nah. Tell him for me, will you?"
Her face smoothed over. "Why don't you tell him yourself?"
He shrugged and fished out his phone to send a quick text. Artemis had to look away as he shot Maya a faintly condescending smile. "There. Have fun," he added as he steered me away from her. Despite Maya's unappealing disposition, Artemis couldn't help but feel the flash of pity.
Well. It wasn't her business. If he wanted to be oblivious about Maya's feelings for him, then he could do so happily. (Which he obviously is.) Still, she couldn't resist pointing it out one more time, in case he forgot or something.
"You just rejected the gorgeous Maya Justice for a no-one."
"You're not a no-one."
"I know. I'm just trying to make a point." At his blank look, she knew she had to explain. "This doesn't make sense to her. She's used to having you all to herself and that you'd pick her over anyone else. And now you're willingly spending time with someone you never spoke to in your life?" Artemis shook her head. "She thinks you like me, and that scares her."
He gazed at her so long that she started to feel uncomfortable.
"I'm not going to ask how you know that," he finally said.
"It's how every girl thinks. And anyway, Naomi and I may or may not have been exchanging information about you two."
She hid a smile at his brief look of shock, until an irritatingly predictable smile formed on his lips. Before he could open his mouth, she stomped ahead.
"I have to pick Noah up. Come if you want."
Xavier chose to invite himself into her car, silent this time, instead of chatting her ear off like she expected. A quick glance from the corner of her eyes saw him staring out the window with a strangely pensive look on his face, which her being her, wanted to ask him what his thoughts were. It wasn't normal, this curiosity for him.
"I'll be back. Try not to be tempted to drive away with my car." She patted her steering wheel lovingly.
"I'll restrain myself," he said dryly.
Smiling, she headed to the front door, which opened before she even lifted her fist to knock. Mrs. Melbourne—Sharon, shortened to Sherry at her insistence— stood on the other side with an expectant look on her face. She was a thin woman with a full head of grey hair and light green eyes that seemed to see everything behind frameless spectacles. Growing up, she was the neighbour that looked out for all the kids on the block, and was like an older sister to all the new mothers. The maternal vibe that she had around her like an invisible shield had to do a lot with the fact that she couldn't have kids of her own, so those she took care of for a little while she doted upon like they were her own. Sherry was firm, strict, but caring and supportive. Artemis had been around her house a lot when the troubles at home was too much for her to handle.
"Noah's a darling," were her words of greeting as she clasped Artemis into the familiar hug. She smelt of sugar cookies. "Such a sweet boy, I don't understand why your father refuses to spend time with him."
"He's proof of his infidelity," Artemis said frankly, and watched Sherry wince. "Sorry, but it's true."
"There's no need to say it like that," Sherry said. "He's the good thing out of an unfortunate situation."
"I can't believe it. You're more positive than I am."
"I have to be, for you," Sherry patted Artemis' shoulder. The latter smiled, just as the older woman peered at the driveway. "Who's that?"
"A friend from school. He's going to take us out for dinner later. Would you like to join us?"
"And intervene on your date?"
"It's not a date. Noah is going to be there, and besides, he's just being a stubborn jerk," Artemis muttered, and willed herself to keep a neutral face as Sherry gazed at her knowingly.
"I'll pass, but bring him the next time you come for dinner, understand?" Artemis' jaw dropped in incredulity. Sherry disappeared into the house and returned moments later with Noah, wide awake on her hips and his bag in her other hand. Her heart gave a kick when his face lightened and his chubby eager hands reached for her. "He seems rather fond of you."
"Natural charisma. Children have innate senses about these things." Artemis swallowed and tried to smile as she adjusted his small body against hers. He latched onto her hair, gazing up at her with expectant, happy green eyes that slowly chipped away the dark feeling that hovered in her chest. "Hello, Noah, how was your day?"
"You're a good girl, Artemis," Sherry said after a pause, and squeezed her shoulder tenderly. "Call me anytime you need me, okay?"
"I'll always need you. Thanks for watching Noah."
Xavier was out the car the second she hit the last step off the porch and opening the back door to prepare the car seat. Bemused, she watched as he grinned at Noah, made faces, and secured the seat. This was the same guy who'd gazed at Noah the first night with something akin to fear on his face. The same one who left with that cold expression, as if he couldn't stand the sight of the little boy anymore.
She stared at him. What the hell? What other kind of mood swings was he capable of?
"What?" He noticed her glare.
Artemis wasn't the type to beat around the bush. "Last time you looked like you'd rather be far away from Noah. Now you're cooing at him."
She pulled out of the driveway. "So, what changed?"
He was silent for so long that she thought he didn't hear her, but that wasn't probable because she always spoke clearly, and besides, he was right there— jerk was ignoring her. Well.
"Nothing," he said evenly, but his tone wasn't as cold as she was used to. There was a sort of wistful quality, one she would like to have an explanation about, but Artemis figured he was the kind of guy that came to you when he was ready. She'd let him do that.
"If you say so."
Andrea Stone McKenzie never used to stay at work longer than she was supposed to. As a grade school teacher, she was able to bring her work home with her. It was the kind of job she loved because it allowed her to teach and influence the lives of the younger generation, and at the same time, be there for her own family. It was a routine of fifteen years where she left school grounds as soon as every child was in the safe protection of their guardians, and drove home herself, where she'd expect to see shoes, jackets, and backpacks strewn all over the floor as soon as she opened the door. Artemis would scramble before her to fix the mess to avoid her lecturing, and Clara would be in the kitchen preparing an afternoon snack.
"Late night again?"
"I just have a few more to go through," she said automatically, and smiled at the teacher who taught from across the hall.
It was nearly two hours later that she stretched and stood from her desk. She'd finished marking an hour ago, but the idea of an empty apartment with nothing to do but listen to the silence was too much for her to bear. She'd been fine before, she thought a little angrily, a little sadly. Before Jon decided to invite her to dinner. Before he told her of his son.
It was a heavy blanket of darkness that swept over her at the thought of his infidelity. Even so, his distance at the death of their daughter seemed much more of a betrayal than his night spent in another woman's bed. That honest thought dragged her further into the pit of despair. Was there something wrong with her to think that? Why wasn't she livid, furious that he defiled their marriage? Was he thinking of her at all?
Andrea swallowed hard. She'd tried— did everything in her power to pull him back from that dark place he found at the loss of their little girl. It wasn't easy—she lost her, too! Did he think he was the only one affected? That it didn't kill her knowing she'd never see the laughter in those bright green eyes again?
Thinking about Clara always brought a kind of happy pain in her chest. Parents weren't supposed to bury their children. They were supposed to grow old, and say goodbye with the comfort of knowing they'd raised them to be magnificent people, someone they were proud of and loved until their last breath.
They lost the same person, and they were supposed to heal together. Instead, they were separated by this bottomless grief. Even though it put another scar in her heart, she had to leave. For Artemis, for Jon, for herself. For the past few months, they were at a standstill. Andrea had grown accustomed to walking into an empty apartment. She satisfied herself with the conversations she had with Artemis over the phone. Was glad to know, if anything, that Jon was alright. That, at least, they weren't fighting anymore. That he could relax.
The thought of knowing she'd be a part of his strain hurt her in ways she couldn't explain. But if her being gone helped him heal in any way from that agony he was in… then she'd do it. No matter.
He has my eyes — Clara's eyes.
They had been at a standstill. Now, she felt as if she were reeling, and she didn't know what she wanted anymore. Not when she was lost herself.
There was something to be said about a guy taking care of a child. It was softer than tenderness, and more buoyant than happiness. Disregarding her suspicions, Artemis had to admit she spent most of the evening watching Xavier communicate with her half-brother. She couldn't bring herself to drill him in his change in attitude, and who knows, maybe that night was an off-night for him. One thing was for certain, the more time she spent with him, the more she realized she really was a judgemental snob. A fact she was keeping to herself, of course…
"Someone's getting tired," Artemis commented from her place on the couch.
"It is past his bed time, isn't it?"
"I was talking about you."
Xavier shot her a look from over his shoulder, but even his mock glare couldn't hide the tired smile that quickly followed. With a martyr's sigh, he settled Noah into his arms—who easily settled because he, too, was exhausted—and took a seat next to her.
"Thanks for dinner," she said quietly, reaching over to stroke Noah's small soft head.
"Thanks for wasting my money."
Xavier smirked and nudged her with the elbow closest to her stomach. Artemis' smile faded slowly when she noticed his strange gaze.
"What?" she said warily.
"Nothing." Though he never looked away, and if anything, the stare grew in its intensity. Red bells began to go off in Artemis' head, but all she could outwardly do was nod stupidly.
"If I tell you something…" his eyes searched her own, and slowly lowered to the bottom half of her face. "Will you get mad?"
The nervous feeling she never felt gave a kick to her heart, and to her agony, her face began to burn. She wanted to say something witty, but he was too close, his eyes were too pretty, and she'd just watched him play with her little brother like he was his own— she was pretty much doomed. So much for neutral and detached.
"It depends," she said slowly, her gaze unwillingly flickering from his eyes, to his lips, and back.
Judging from the slow curl of his lips, he noticed, and she wanted to back away, but he was reaching forward with his free hand. A sudden wave of incredulity, mixed with expectance and anticipation, washed through her. Was he putting a move with her brother in between them? Who the hell does that?
Then his fingers flicked the bottom of her chin. "You've had cheese on your chin the whole night. It was bothering me."
Apparently no one did. Put moves with their brother in between them, she meant.
Artemis didn't know whether she wanted to find a shovel and bury herself, or better yet, find a shovel to murder him with, and use it to bury his body. She settled for narrowing her eyes, fuelling her irritation with the embarrassment of something so trite and so teenager she couldn't believe she'd let herself fall into the voodoo magic of his pretty eyes! Who the hell was she, his type of girl? The ones that dressed and made their faces everyday like they were going to a party when in reality, they were slumming through their classes?
She couldn't help the stereotypical thoughts from flying through her brain, but embarrassing her like that was a giant stop sign. He wanted to play with her? Fine. She could sink to his level, play it better than any of his friends ever could, and still come out with class and brains.
The anticipation she felt at this thought was alarming, but she didn't give herself time to think. Xavier was an ass, and judging from that wide smile on his face, he knew it too. She could barely keep herself from grinning back.
She fought to keep her voice even. "Thanks. That was thoughtful of you."
"I thought so, too." With a giant pretence of nonchalance, he stood. "He's sleeping. Shall I put him to bed?"
She let herself meet his eyes, and let him see exactly who he was messing with. What passed between them couldn't be described with words. Even with her grasp on human emotions, which she thought she understood quite well (at least, regarding those of her age), she couldn't begin to explain that strange feeling of looking into his eyes. Of knowing exactly what he did. So if she didn't know what it was, how would he? He was too caught up in his little game.
At that reminder, she smiled easily and turned her heel. He thought he could shake her. What an amusing little cutie. "I'll lead the way."
Author's note: Um… LOL, wow it's been a while. Believe me, I've always wanted to post something, but it's never finished, or it's too crap, or too cliché. But anyway, thanks for sticking with this story! I haven't stopped writing, I promise. (: