Almost Close – Chapter 5

Guess whaaaaaat. I'm back, peoples.

Doing this for Camp NaNoWriMo, so hopefully I can get this story finished or at least well on its way to finishing. Kind of helps that I'm graduating (from high school), which means plenty of time to do this. Sorry that I'm typing this in incomplete sentences, but I am drained from the past four years of schooling and education and I just don't even know, y'all. Anyways, hope this was sort of worth the wait. I'll be updating more frequently this summer, or at least this June, which is when I hope I can get this all wrapped up.

Enjoy!

~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~

RECAP:

We got home all too soon, the driver pulling up to the curb. Lights inside the house were still lit, as I imagined my parents staying up a little late just to make sure I got home safely. The driver got out and opened the door for me, and I nodded and smiled at him when I got out of the car, Gabe following behind me. He walked me to my door, and we stood under the porch lights, the dark and light contrasting on our faces. I looked up at him with the remnants of a smile on my face. "So... this is goodnight."

He nodded solemnly. "Goodnight," and made a move to walk away. I laughed and pulled him back, and all of a sudden he enveloped me in a hug, tight and warm. I breathed in the smell of him deeply, Old Spice and some other cologne mixed in, the masculine fragrance filling my nose.

He let me go all too soon. "I have to go," he whispered. "But I'll see you tomorrow," he said, and it was a promise. He rubbed my arms, a flash of warmth generated under his hands, and strode down the porch steps, turning once to wave goodbye. I waved back as I opened the door, stepping in. The car pulled away, and I watched him go, red lights pulsing once, pulsing twice as the car paused at a stop sign, then disappearing so quickly, an evening's worth of memories left at my doorstep.

~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~

It seemed that my time at Southchurch Prep flew by without my realizing it. October was well under way, the cool air venturing out to play in the daytime as well as the nighttime. Designer scarves and beanies were so in, a trend happily set by, so it seemed, Laney and Michelle, who, as the It girls of Southchurch, were of course the pinnacle of rotating fashion "musts" at the school. I personally saw no difference in a Hermes scarf and my own $10 (on sale!) scarf from the Gap. I guess it was my "middle-class" taste, according to Laney, that separated me and three-fourths of the school population.

Only a week had passed after that night, that dinner that Gabe had taken me out to. I pulled into the parking lot in the morning, stepping out of my car into the morning chill. It was a particularly cold day, and I looked around to find some people wearing thing gloves, shielding their hands from the crisp coldness of the morning air. I shivered a bit, rubbing my hands together for warmth and quickly ducked into the heated school without delay.

I made my way to the second floor, weaving around loitering groups and stood in the skywalk on the second floor, looking out of the wide glass panes over the school grounds, watching my fellow students. There was the skater group, bunched together by the fountain in front of the library (apparently it was a donation by the generous late Mr. Allen Clark Sr., also known as Laney's grandfather). The water wasn't running, but the surface was calm, ripples occasionally interrupting the glassy surface as some tossed pennies and nickels into its shallow depths. My eyes roamed over the couples that were stationed unobtrusively (or not) behind trees, in dark corners, in the various nooks and crannies of this aged institution. I spied a couple, two girls, sneaking hugs and the occasional kiss, and I averted my eyes quickly, feeling like I had some sick voyeuristic bad habit, or perverted fetish. Nevertheless, a sudden pang of longing shot through me, piercing my heart. This violent burst of emotion, of wanting a love, shocked me, touched me, gave me –

"Coffee?" a familiar voice snaked around my emotions and thoughts and held a cup of hot, steamy coffee before me. I looked to my side and sensed the grin Gabe had on his face even before I saw it. I looked down at his hand, which was still holding the cup. "It's a cinnamon dolce latte," he continued. "You seem like the person who'd enjoy it." He kept grinning. That grin could last for centuries without fading. I accepted it, the warmth between my hands better grounding me to reality. "I got you a scone, too. A chocolate chip one. I don't even know what a scone is, but it looks good..." He held out an accompanying Starbucks pastry bag. I mumbled in protest, my objection smothered partly by my drinking the coffee. I finished my long, grateful sip, which warmed me pleasantly all the way down to my stomach, a lazy, liquid flame. "You didn't have to..."

He shook his head. "Don't worry about me going out of my way," he rolled his eyes. "Mitch wanted to stop by Starbucks, so that's where we went." I smiled fondly, thinking of Gabe's sweet older sister. "He needs his caffeine fix every now and then," Gabe continued, and the smile on my lips didn't last much longer. So much for having a great morning so far.

"Why do you have that look on your face?" he asked, concerned.

I shook it off. "Nothing." Out of pure curiosity, I asked, "Do you guys usually meet up in the morning?"

"You mean the Four and me? Or Mitch, Mich, and me?" he asked. Though I was admittedly curious about the former, I replied, "Mitch times two and you."

He opened his mouth to speak, and stopped, smiling to himself. "Mitch times two and you," he repeated. "I like that."

I rolled my eyes. "Well?"

"Sometimes Mitch sleeps over. His parents aren't usually home – they travel a lot – and Britt is really the only family he's got in Bendeth, and her own parents can barely stand her," he chuckled. I understood, Britt being the family wild child, apparently. "It gets lonely in that huge house of his. And our parents don't care. They even let him sleep in Michelle's room."

I raised my eyebrows. Gabe noted that, and explained, "Mich and Mitch used to date, back in middle school. And part of his freshman year. They've always been close, anyway. And I've never had a big brother. Mitch is the closest to that I've got. And Will, but we all know how much of a role model he is." Gabe laughed, thinking fondly of the Four's notorious playboy.

"I don't see how either of them are role models," I muttered, the bell ringing and dismissing us to class. I looked up at Gabe, expecting to hear a light, carefree goodbye, but I met a serious stare, intent on me. "Mitch is a dick, 99% of the time," he told me. "But that 1%?" He rubbed the back of his head, and I could see how the years of friendship with Mitch had burdened and helped him both. "That 1% hardly anybody ever sees. But it's the one percent that counts." He stared off for a moment, obviously knee-deep in thoughts and memories, but the squirming, shoving masses of bodies as people crossed over the skywalk, making their way to their classes, pushed us back into the present. "Anyways," he said with a kind smile, his trademark kind smile, "enjoy your coffee and that scone. I'll catch up with you later."

I nodded, and he enveloped me in a quick hug before walking off. I looked over my shoulder just once before I took a right, the view of his retreating back through the crowd disappearing.

~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~

Gabe had gotten me a Venti-sized cup of coffee, and I managed to make it last through American History (we had a test), Precal (The teacher plied us continuously with in-class work and worksheets), all the way to English in third period. The coffee had cooled long ago, but the flavor of the sweet, warm cinnamon still lingered on my lips. The scone lay untouched. As Mrs. Thompkins declared at the beginning of class a day to work on the rough drafts of our essays, which were due tomorrow, no exceptions, I took out the scone from my bag, happily lifting it up to my mouth to take a bite.

"Hey, Connor," said an irritatingly familiar voice behind me.

I paused, scone midair, poised only inches from my lips. I took a deep breath and turned around, pasting a patient expression on my face and politely replied, "Yes, Mitch?"

"It's Mitchell, and that scone will go straight to your hips," he said nastily, with an equally nasty expression. Before I could react, he plucked the pastry out of my hand and took a giant bite out of it, training his eyes on me the entire time he chewed and swallowed. He leaned forward, his face now mere inches from mine. I was breathless, frozen, still trying to decide whether I was more shocked than angry or vice versa. "And guess what else?" he said in a low voice, the deep tones of his voice – I thought I heard a few girls sigh just at the huskiness of it – rattling my mind – and my temper.

"What?" I unconsciously leaned into the little space between us.

He leaned even closer, my eyes now centimeters from his, my lips (gulp!) millimeters from his. "So will that coffee," he told me seriously, nimbly leaning forward even more to pick the cup off of my desk with the agility of a snake, or some bird of prey, darting or swooping in for the final kill. My mouth dropped open as he washed that half of my only breakfast down with an equally huge gulp of coffee while still managing to look like some rock star god person in the process. No, scratch that. A rock star demonic thing or something like that. I directed my incredulous expression, mouth still agape, pointedly at his own Venti-sized coffee. He shrugged and reached out with long, slender fingers to pat my cheeks. "Don't open your mouth like that unless you plan on using it for more... productive activities," he said crudely.

A normal girl would have slapped the insolent boy sitting in front of her. But I couldn't. I'm not that kind of person. I steeled myself against any of his future remarks and looked down, keeping my eyes on my paper. But his snarky comments insinuating my unsightly physical appearance kept the coffee nice and cold for the remainder of the class. I didn't touch it for fear of another comment, like, "Did you have to get baptized in Sea World?" or "Who took your baby pictures? A satellite?" I wouldn't put it past him.

The rest of the class period was wasted on me, as my focus was constantly interrupted by Mitchell, who seemed to think it was necessary to lean back and stretch once a minute. In the seconds before the bell rang, Mrs. Thompkins managed to get out a quick, "Anddon'" before we all poured out of her class. As I gathered my things, I looked at the cup of coffee, sitting cold and neglected on my desk. Mitch wasn't in the class anymore, so I snuck a small sip, savoring the creaminess that was not enough to satisfy my dry throat, nor the guilt and insecurity that was already blossoming inside my stomach. I looked sadly at the still half-full cup and tossed it into the trash can.

~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~

Biology had just barely started when there was a knock on the door. The teacher seemed pretty peeved as she opened the door. She accepted the note and looked over the class. "Darby Connor...?" she asked, searching for my (unfamiliar) face.

The class's attention temporarily swiveled towards me, and I shrunk a little in my seat, uncomfortable with all the faces turned to me. "Yes?"

"You're being checked out. Go to the office."

I gathered my books and notes, wondering why my parents would check me out. When I went to the office, I realized they wouldn't.

She stood at the door in her typical arms-crossed-foot-tapping stance, the perfect picture of impatience. "Could you have taken any longer?" Laney asked snippily.

"What are you talking about?" I replied slowly. What was going on?

"Follow me," she said brusquely, ignoring my question as she headed out of the office. I went after her dumbly, clueless of what exactly she was going to do with me. She wasn't the friendliest person, after all.

"Where are you taking me?" I asked her as we got into the car. "Hi, Mich," I greeted the sweet face sitting in the front seat. I climbed in the back, slightly cramped for space in the trendy sports car that Laney drove. It was good to see a familiar face. We peeled out of the parking lot and Laney turned up the radio, blasting the latest radio hits. "Where are we going?" I asked her again, raising my voice a little.

"Lunch, shopping, and some girl talk, not necessarily in that order," Laney finally replied. "Actually, lunch, girl talk, and then shopping, in that order," she decided a couple seconds later.

"...And whyare you doing this?" I wanted to know.

Laney leveled a hard gaze at me. "Because you and I have some things we need to discuss."

I think I died a little on the inside.

~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~ AC ~

"The usual for the both of us, Adam," Laney let the waiter know as we sat in Savoir Faire, a restaurant whose menu not only eluded my peasant-class ranking but also my woefully thin wallet. "And a salad with mustard vinaigrette and Coquilles St. Jacque for her." She handed him back the menu, taking a sip of water with her manicured nails and perfectly coiffed hair. I envied her, honestly. Envied how perfect her life seemed to be, every puzzle piece in place and everything in line. Michelle exuded the same privileged-life sense, though not as strongly or so confidently as Laney did.

Laney leaned forward, her eyes narrowing as she studied my probably bemused expression. "What are your intentions?" she asked.

If I hadn't already been thoroughly confused by all the events that seemed to be thrown at me so quickly, I was now. "...Intentions?"

She sighed exasperatedly. "Yes, your intentions. What are your intentions with Gabe?"

There was a brief moment of awkwardness, that suspenseful second in which the entire world and its safety seemed to hinge on my reply, before I answered. "I have no intentions with Gabe. He's my friend...?"

"Are you sure?" Laney volleyed back rapidly.

"I am pretty sure," I let her know slowly, as if speaking at a slower rate would allow her to comprehend the lack of intentions with Gabe. "Well, I mean, mostly sure. I don't really know what you're talking about here."

Laney sat back in her chair, seemingly partly satisfied with my answer – for the moment. "I don't think you understand, Miss Connor. Gabe is part of the Southchurch legacy. He cannot, and will not, just date any student. And, to be honest with you, you just don't have the pedigree that's up to his standards."

Pedigree? What was I, a poodle or something?

"I wasn't planning on dating him," I told her. "The thought hadn't even crossed my mind."

Laney looked at me with a strange face. "Then you're more stupid than I thought you were."

I really had no response to that.