I groaned, burying my head under my warm pillow. Go away, I thought miserably.
Despite my efforts, the annoying high-pitched ringing of the phone continued. I sighed, reaching out blindly to the nightstand; my eyes were set on staying closed, still under the impression that my head would soon be returned to its rightful place. By the time I finally grasped the phone, the alarm clock had hit the floor and Pablo, my hamster, had stopped spinning on his squeaky wheel from fright.
"Mmm?" I growled.
"Blackstone Bridge," his husky voice said. "I tagged all that shit in neon." By the sound of his voice I could tell the corners of his lips were turned up.
"You would be smiling at a time like this," I mumbled groggily, sitting up and rubbing my eyes. He is impossible.
"You know me too well, Sunshine," he said cheerily.
"Speaking of which, what time is it?" I asked with my eyes still closed.
"Uh," he paused, most likely checking the clock. "Two thirty-seven."
"Damnnn youuu, Rio," I whined. We've got class today.
He chuckled at the other end. "You'd think you'd be use to this by now."
"I'll never get use to waking up in the middle of the night and sacrificing my extremely precious sleep to bail some bum, amateur artist out of jail," I snarled, wincing as I pulled the warm, soft comforter off and forced my legs over the side of the bed.
He gasped dramatically. "Nat, you're just grumpy and tired. You don't know what you're saying."
"And whose fault is that?" I muttered, walking over to the bathroom and switching the light on. Even with my eyes clamped closed, the light was harsh.
"Let's not play the blame game," he said hastily, "Fisher's manhandling the phone out of my hands – so what, like, twenty minutes?"
"Thirty," I negotiated, leaning against the doorframe sleepily.
"Natalia, I might get raped in that time," he deadpanned.
"That'll teach you not to bother your friends in the middle of the night," I snapped. "Twenty-five, final offer."
"Fine," he said with someone of a struggle. "See you s–" I heard him yell, sounding far away. The line went dead and I chuckled at the thought of Officer Fisher wrestling the phone out of Rio's shackled hands. Poor guy; instead of heading home to his cats he has to babysit a delinquent.
I wandered sightlessly back to my nightstand, returning the phone and the alarm clock to their places. I took a deep breath and gathered the courage to open my eyes. They flashed open, and just as soon shut.
"Mother of–!" I shrieked, desperately feeling the wall for the light switch.
I heard Pablo scurry across his cage and into his little dome.
"I'm sorry, Pablo," I said softly as I applied toothpaste to my toothbrush in the dark. The attempt left Crest all over my fingers and the sink, but barely any on the bristles of my brush.
Seeing as showering in the dark was far too dangerous to even try, I braced myself for the light and hopped into the shower with squinted eyes.
Once I was fully awake, I got dressed in gray yoga pants and a bright yellow V-neck tee. With fifteen minutes left I ran some mousse through my dirty blonde waves. After a few coats of dark mascara and some cover-up I found that I still looked the same as I had fifteen minutes ago – bug-eyed and pale as a ghost.
"Shit," I mumbled, digging through my makeup bag for some eyeliner. I was running late.
I refilled Pablo's water bottle, grabbed my keys, and then ran. Right into a piece of furniture. My hip went numb. Biting my lip and moving around what I thought was my kitchen counter, I finally made it out the door. From then on, things went smoothly all the way to my car. My apartment building always kept its lights on.
"Morning, Mike," I yawned, leaning against the counter as Mike got out some forms. Everything was so grey in the police station; it was just like the movies. Cold and raw, with small holding cells lining the hall.
"So how much is it?" I asked, pulling out my wallet. "The usual?"
Officer Fisher nodded. He looked older than he was, all wrinkly and disappointed with life. "I don't know why, or how, you put up with him, Miss."
"It's because she's a good person, Fish Sticks!" Rio called from down the hall. His face flashed a playful grin between the bars of the cell.
I took out a few bills and extended them over the counter with a sheepish smile. "I'm sorry, Mike," I said on behalf of my semi-drunk friend.
"S'alright," Officer Fisher shrugged, taking the money and the signed forms. "Makes the job interesting," I heard him admit quietly.
He strolled down the hall to the last cell swinging a set of jingling silver keys.
"It's been a pleasure, Fish Sticks," Rio grinned, swaggering out of his cell toward me.
"Humph," Officer Fisher grunted, returning to his desk.
"Till next time," Rio saluted, winking at his favorite Officer before walking to my car.
Mike rolled his eyes and waved goodbye as I sprinted to catch up with Rio.
My car was blaring Spanish music by the time I pulled out of the parking lot and onto the road.
"You're not even a Latina! Do you know what he's saying?" Rio yelled over Omega's version of "Que Tengo Que Hacer".
"Do you?" I countered, turning the dial down a bit so we didn't have to shout over the music.
"Don't you speak Portuguese?" I asked, then adding for good measure: "Or something?"
"I can still understand Spanish pretty well. And we took it in high school, as I recall."
"Ewww, high school memories," I whined, wrinkling my nose in distaste. The thought of my awkward, flat-chested-self walking through the halls; lips pursed out as I fought to keep my mouth closed in an effort to hide those stupid pink braces. I was always embarrassed of them, always afraid to smile or laugh. Rio's mission in high school, besides nailing Ms. Blonde Bombshell (now, his current girlfriend, Jenna), was to make me laugh.
It worked every time.
"Aww, come on," he smirked. "I still can't believe you haven't gotten over that."
"I looked like a duck!" I exclaimed, blushing. Those braces ruined my entire high school experience.
"You looked… cute," Rio reasoned cautiously.
"Cute?" I snorted. "You're contacts were definitely the wrong prescription, then."
He laughed. "I don't wear contacts, Natalia Magdalena Lane–"
"Ooh, busting out in full names now," I teased.
He continued, ignoring me. "And we both know I've never worn them. My eyes are naturally blue, you're just in denial."
"Oh, that's what it is?" I avoided his remarkably electric blue gaze as I turned the car into my parking spot and cut the engine.
"Yep," he said confidently.
I shook my head as we stepped inside the lobby of my apartment building. Pressing the elevator button with my foot, I skimmed my contacts in search of a restaurant that was still open. And delivered.
"Pizza? Cheese sticks?" I asked, stepping into the elevator with The Lawbreaker.
"I could go for anything at this point," he shrugged.
"Men," I muttered while I pressed the green "Call" button and pressed the phone to my ear. "Never give straight answers…"
My loft was a mess.
"You're place's a mess," Rio commented.
"It looks so different with the lights turned on," I mused, tidying up my living room. I bent down to pick up a random magazine off the floor.
"Um, can I use your bathroom?" he asked.
"Sure," I grunted, pushing the couch a little to the left. So this is what I rammed into on the way out…
"Why is there toothpaste all over your sink?" he asked oddly a moment later.
"The light hurt my eyes." I laughed, limping to get my deck of Uno cards. I was finally aware of the pain from when I'd hit the corner of my couch earlier. I pulled my shirt up to inspect it.
"Shit," he said in response to the pretty purple bruise I'd acquired.
"Yeah," I nodded, dropping my shirt.
We took a seat at opposite ends of my coffee table and I shuffled the cards.
"How'd that happen?"
"Well, I was running for the door to bail this Brazilian bum out of jail," I explained while dealing the cards out. "And I ran into the couch."
"You didn't see it?" he smirked.
"Like I said, the lights were off," I explained.
He laughed heartily. We inspected our hands and I put down the first card. "You trying to lower your electric bill or something?"
"No, my eyes are just sensitive to light at two in the morning."
"Well, you should really work on that," he suggested, placing his card down.
"Nah." I slapped a wild card down. "I prefer living on the dark side."
"And the color is red," I told him matter-of-factly.
"Actually, I believe it's blue," he said, placing a wildcard of his own down.
"Nah, red," I smirked, slapping another wildcard down. This one made him take four additional cards.
He cursed, taking the cards from the deck.
I ended up kicking his ass. And then our pizza came.
With two slices of bacon pizza each and a plate of mozzarella sticks placed between us, Rio and I leaned back on my couch.
"Let's watch a movie," I suggested mischievously.
He looked at me suspiciously. I simply smiled.
The movie started, and Shane West made my heart flutter just a little bit more than it already was.
"A Walk To Remember?" Rio questioned, looking at me.
"It's a good movie."
"What is it? Like, Drama? Action?"
"Romance," I said nonchalantly.
"Oh God. You're one of those closet-romantics, aren't you?"
"Tell anyone, and I'll let you sit in jail next time," I warned.
"So you expect me to get busted again? You don't believe I can change my ways and become a good citizen?" he asked sarcastically.
"You could if you wanted to."
With both amusement and skepticism in his eyes, he averted his gaze to the television screen.
To my surprise he kept his mouth shut. Well, up until Mandy Moore said, "You have to promise not to fall in love with me."
"That's foreshadowing, right there," Rio said, picking up a cheese stick. He thought he had it all figured out.
"Perhaps," I shrugged, ripping my own cheese stick in half and dipping one end into the marinara sauce.
By the end of the movie, I was pretty sure my mascara was running.
"Nicholas Sparks is a saint," I stated, wiping my eyes and placing my plate on the table.
"Talia, I'm pretty sure Santa's last name is Claus."
"No," I laughed. "Nicholas Sparks wrote the story."
We sat on the couch, staring at the credits.
"Hey, Nat," Rio practically whispered. "Are you crying?"
I nodded sheepishly, wiping my eyes some more. "I bet my makeup's all gone by now."
"Nah, it's still there." he said wiping right under my eye. "Why are you wearing makeup anyway? It's just me," he smirked.
"I figured if I did it now, I wouldn't have to later," I shrugged, averting my gaze from his. "'Cause we have class today..." I reminded him.
I reached for a tissue and blew my nose lightly.
He chuckled. "It really got to you, didn't it?"
"It's so sad," I whined. "They loved each other so much, and they couldn't be together because she was sick."
"Hey, at least they got married. They got to spend her last couple months together," he pointed out. I laughed, because it looked like he realized what he was saying. "It's not even real, anyway."
"But it happens. Imagine falling in love," I said. His gaze flashed to mine. "Well, you already are in love. But I mean, imagine having that person – which, you do, so you can… uh, relate… um." Why I was tripping over words? I did not know. "My point is, it sucks when you find someone you feel like you can't live without, and then they get taken away from you."
He looked around the room, at the tissues and the credits rolling on the TV, and then back at me. "Why do I feel like the gay best friend all of a sudden?"
I burst out laughing and shoved him. "You're just getting in touch with your feminine side."
He shook his head, placing a hand on top of his dark, gelled head.
"You can't say that movie sucked. I bet you secretly like these types of romantic, tear-jerkingly-beautiful storylines."
His forehead wrinkled as he raised his eyebrows. "Not really."
"You don't like the idea of a girl changing the guy for the better?"
He shook his head. "That's so cliché."
I grinned like the Cheshire Cat. "I think you doooo," I sang.
"Not eeeven," he sang back.
"Yep, you do. And if you weren't in denial, you'd let your own little cliché happen to you."
That got his attention. He looked at me with a questioning look.
"With Jenna…" I added. Unfortunately, it didn't make the situation any less awkward.
His gaze rested on something behind me. I turned around, looking at the window.
Rio cleared his voice. "It's getting light out."
"Let's go check out your latest masterpiece."
Blackstone Bridge went right over the Blackstone River. There was a place under the bridge where teenagers hung out; just a little piece of shore between the river and the supporting cement wall with crushed beer cans and cigarettes scattered around.
Basically, it wasn't a place where you'd expect the general public to visit. The cops were usually on patrol because of underage drinking. Even though Rio's graffiti wasn't really bothering the community, it was vandalism nonetheless.
It looked good, though. Impossibly good.
We walked down the sandy bank and under the bridge where it was still pretty dark at half past five in the morning. The neon colors were clearly visible, illustrating a very complex… indescribable image.
"Pretty chaotic," I nodded.
"That's what I was going for."
"Right. So um… what is it?" I smirked.
"I don't know," he admitted. "It's just a giant, Candyland-ish mural."
I chuckled, realizing that this was the perfect place for a mural like that.
"What's so funny?" he asked curiously.
"I was just thinking… how will someone on Shrooms see this?"
He smirked. "They probably won't. I bet Fisher already called someone down here to paint over it."
I shrugged. "That's what tends to happen when you vandalize the city. They cover it up."
"Well, you know Leo, right?" he asked, referring to his best friend and fellow art major.
"The guy that always wears beanies," I confirmed.
"We're planning on buying a building."
"Oh, shit. A whole building?" I gasped sarcastically.
"We're planning on opening our own art gallery," he said vaguely. He was probably picturing it all as he told me about his plans. "Get wallpaper, with brick and stone patterns so it'll look like the outside. And we'll get Sharpies and spray-paint and tag everything."
"A graffiti art gallery?"
He smiled and nodded as he traced patterns in the sand with his feet. "Sounds stupid, huh?"
"Not at all," I assured him. "That sounds kick ass. Your work's finally gonna be able to stay up. And it'll be legal," I joked.
He gave me a playful shove into my car.
Then I drove him to Jenna's house so he could shower and eat breakfast before class.
"So, what're you gonna tell her this time?" I asked, stopping a couple yards away from the house next to an oak tree.
"I spent the night working on a project with Leo. Then I crashed at his place."
"You say that every time."
"So… isn't she gonna eventually wanna see this giant, super-difficult project?" I smirked.
He paused; probably hadn't thought of that. "Well, I'll tell her we accidently ruined it."
"I don't get why you can't just tell her. I never took you for the lying type," I said, tapping my fingers against the wheel.
"I feel like shit for lying to her," he admitted, "trust me, I do. But we've been fighting so much lately."
Correction: you've been fighting so much since, like, ninth grade.
"And you don't wanna make it worse," I finished for him. Typical.
"You don't think it's gonna suck when she finally finds out though?"
"Would you wanna hear your boyfriend's been arrested? A lot?" he countered.
"So your just never gonna tell her?" I asked, raising my voice. The tension was quickly rising.
"I didn't say that," he said angrily.
"You don't think she's going to be extremely pissed off that you kept this from her all this time?" I didn't want to believe he was the lying type of boyfriend. I knew he was better than this.
"She will, but I just can't tell her right now," he deadpanned with a tense jaw.
"There're just some things I'm not sure about right now," he sighed.
"Well until you get that figured out," I muttered, putting the car in drive, "don't go wasting your coveted one-phone-call on me."
He looked at me. But I turned my cheek and looked straight ahead.
"I'm not keep bailing your ass out of jail and sneaking around behind Jenna's back, helping you lie to her anymore," I said before he climbed out of the car and shut the door.
I sped off, feeling stupid. Completely stupid. And angry. And a little tired, too.
I stopped by for a large coffee on the way home.
I wasn't looking forward to class that afternoon. Fortunately, there were twenty-seven other people for me to talk to besides Rio.
I loved my creative writing class. And when I found out Rio was in this class at the beginning of the semester I was twice as excited. Though he was only taking it for the "creative" aspect, it was still nice to see a familiar face. He hadn't changed much, from what I remember in high school. He'd just gotten taller, and darker. He still put gel in his hair; his eyes were still a striking electric blue.
Rio was the reason I had passed Spanish class in high school. He always helped me with my homework, and quizzes, and tests. By "help", I mean he gave me the answers. In exchange, I'd give him gum and "help" him in history class. For some reason I was always good with history. Sometimes I'd even distract him from his Jenna problems. He was crazy about her.
He still is.
That's why he doesn't want to drive her over the edge with the fact that he's been arrested for defacement.
You'd think that he'd hold off on covering the city in his "artwork" until he's at least comfortable with calling his girlfriend to bail him out of jail. Or, call me crazy, even stop with the graffiti until his whole art gallery dream follows through.
I figured Rio was like Landon Carter; Jenna was his Jamie Sullivan, minus the leukemia. I mean, he'd dated a bunch of girls in high school and he could be a jackass. But he kept coming back to Jenna. It helped that their parents were friends; that they were childhood friends and they were basically destined for each other. But he wasn't changing for her, which I found odd. He didn't feel the need to stop getting arrested, even though it'd make her happy. (If she even had a clue, she'd be happy. But still.)
I pondered that whole situation for the majority of class.
After we got our assignment and class was dismissed, I headed for the parking lot. If Rio was waiting for me, I'd give him a ride home, I decided.
But just as I'd expected, he wasn't. I saw him sitting on a bench as I pulled out of the lot. He was probably waiting for Jenna or Leo or somebody. His stubborn ass could walk itself home. Not that I cared.
I got back to my apartment and crashed on my bed. He didn't call me that night. Not that I cared.
In class, there was mutual avoidance between us. I didn't look at him; he didn't look at me. At least, I expected that he didn't look at me. I didn't dare glance his way and check, though, so I wasn't completely sure. Not that I cared.
It wasn't until about a week days later that I got a call. The two-in-the-morning type of call that woke me up and pissed me off, but at the same time gave me a rush.
"Hello?" I asked groggily, sitting up in bed. I knew it was him.
"Your bedroom window," he said huskily.
"I told you not to waste your phone call on me," I told him, fighting the urge to hop out of bed and bail him out. I needed to show him I wasn't joking that day.
"You're worth it."
I was in the middle of processing his words when he hung up. He was willing to spend a whole night in jail, evidently.
The entire night I listened to Pablo run on his squeaky hamster wheel. Rio's words played in my head, on constant replay. When light first hit the sky, I had realized that I still couldn't conjure a decent remark to his statement.
Who was I kidding? I cared.
I cared way too much.
As the sun began to rise, I slowly slid out of bed. With shaky legs I made my way to my one giant bedroom window. Across it there was the city park. I peeked cautiously through the blinds, looking for anything out of the ordinary.
I took in the cars, cramped tightly along the street. Clean. I skimmed the trees and various statues and building walls. Also clean.
Suddenly, an image caught my eye.
On the large, marble wall standing on the west side of the park (which coincidently faced my apartment building) was a distinct, fresh piece of artwork. The marble wall was actually a fountain. Water would soon flow from the top, majestically slide down the giant, sleek granite, and collect in the designated marble basin below where people could make wishes with their spare change. I stared in awe at the graffiti… it looked as if it had been painted.
From this distance, I could distinctly see the image of a girl. She had dirty blonde waves, beautiful brown eyes, and a shy, rosy, smiling mouth filled with perfect teeth. I laughed lightly. She looked gorgeous. Beneath the image I could make out simple, slightly slanted words in his signature chrome-colored spray paint. You're all I see.
Those four words just about knocked the wind out of me.
My knees buckled and I gripped the window frame as a few men came up to the fountain and began an attempt at degenerating Rio's art.
I pondered running to the police station.
What if he wasn't there? What if he was? I can't just run in there – What the hell was he getting at with that picture anyway?
I grabbed my phone off the nightstand and made a few calls. Eventually, I retrieved Leo's cellphone number and called him.
"Rio's at the station," I told him when he answered.
"No he's not," he smirked, sounding preoccupied.
"He called me a couple hours ago and sai–"
"I picked him up an hour ago," Leo informed me nonchalantly.
"Uhh… sorry for bothering you then, Leo," I said awkwardly.
"It's all good," he smirked. "Bye now, Talia."
How does he know my name?
"Of all the people I expected to arrest at one in the morning…," Officer Fisher smirked, shaking his head, "Ms. Lane you are truly something else."
I hung my head sheepishly. My heart was ready to fall out of my butt and land at my feet.
"Can I get that one phone call, Officer?" I asked, running a hand through my curls.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, leading me down the hall to the phone. I stared at him with a pleading face and he knowingly turned and gave me some privacy. I held my breath as I dialed a phone number I knew all too well.
It rang exactly nine times before the answering machine went off.
I sighed, closing my eyes and resting my head against the bacteria-infested brick wall. I hadn't anticipated this. I wouldn't speak to him directly, which was less nerve-wracking… but I also wasn't sure if he'd even get the message any time soon. While I ran countless circles in my mind, the machine beep went off.
I took a deep breath and then exhaled.
"416 Belleview Ave," I said and hung up the phone.
"If he's smart, that hooligan will be here soon," Officer Fisher said, slowly closing my cell. I nodded worriedly and chewed my lip as I thought back to all the events that led me to this exact moment.
When exactly I first realized I was in love with Rio Silva… it was Spanish class. It was one of our last classes of senior year, and I'd finally gotten my braces taken off. I refused to smile, because I hated the fact that I was still a metal mouth with that blasted retainer. But Rio was persistent – he purred my name in his sexy accent; said my full name the way a foreigner would. It sounded beautiful. He made me feel completely gorgeous, despite my numerous flaws.
When he painted my picture, painted the way he saw me, onto that fountain I was reminded of that same feeling of beauty. I could no longer just sit by and deny all of my deep, heart-wrenching feelings.
So I bought some neon spray paint, and I found the perfect, abandoned seven-story building. A building where he could start his graffiti gallery. I spray painted the brick walls and dusty windows in big letters with the only two words I ever focused on in Spanish class. Te Quiero.
I don't know where the confidence came from, or where the fear of being arrested went. But I suddenly realized just how much I wanted to return Rio's gesture when I was able to accept that it wasn't Jenna that would play Jamie Sullivan in this movie; it was me. I told him not to call me, but he did. And I couldn't help but chase him right back.
He was all I ever wanted.
And I prayed that he would get my message, see my attempt at graffiti, and at least bail me out.
While I sat there with my head in my hands, the sounds of footsteps rose in the hall.
"What did you do, Nat?" his husky voice questioned.
"Don't tell me you didn't see it," I returned, too scared to lift my head and face him.
He stayed quiet for a while. "You ruined your clean record, you realize that? Getting arrested for vandalism is no small thing."
"You're worth it," I practically whispered.
"What's that?" he asked with a grin audible in his voice.
"How'd Jenna take you leaving?" I asked, lifting my head.
His gorgeous eyes were still smiling.
"She saw it coming," he shrugged. "To be honest, we both did. She admitted to seeing someone else, and I admitted to spending far less time with Leo then I had originally claimed."
I stared at him, with my mouth slightly agape. I was speechless.
"So about two weeks ago, I moved out and took up residence on Leo's couch," he explained, running a hand through his gel-free, sexy hair.
"How's that been going for you?" I asked, daring to get up from the bench.
"Pretty solid, can't complain," he said. "I know he's got my back, whether it has to do with our business or chasing beautiful women."
I thought back to when Leo explained he'd picked Rio up from the police station. That snake had been laughing at me – at how I was worrying over his crazyass best friend, whom I was evidently completely in love with.
"Well that's cool," I said quietly, stepping closer towards the cell door. Officer Fisher stood in the corner, grinning at me and shaking his head.
I bit my lip.
"Are you gonna bail me out, Rio?" I inquired tiredly, gripping the jail cell bars and staring into his eyes.
"Why'd you call me?" he asked.
"Why'd you always call me?" I countered.
"You were the only person I wanted to see, Natalia," he deadpanned.
I gulped at his honesty. "And you're the reason I'm in here."
"Why should I bail your beautiful ass out? You let me sit in jail," he asked quietly, leaning in a bit.
"I was determined to show you I was serious," I whispered.
His eyes were smoldering at this point. "Did you like the painting?"
"I loved it," I admitted instantly, feeling my eyes get glossy. I sheepishly dropped my head and felt his warm hands wrap around mine on the bars. He opened the cell door.
"Yours was pretty great, too," he smirked, "for an amateur."
I chuckled, blushing as I stared up at Rio. He was less than inches away from me. Officer Fisher cleared his throat awkwardly and walked away as Rio placed his large, soft hands on either side of my face and captured my lips with his. The mouth that I'd often ogled in Spanish class and fantasized about was finally on my own. He delved into my mouth and I passionately responded, burying my fingers in his amazing hair and pulling him as close as I possibly could.
"Te quiero," he said against my lips, repeating the very words that had gotten me arrested.
"Let's go home, babe," I suggested tiredly before kissing him again. "I'm tired."
"Are you trying to get me into your bed, Natalia?" he gasped, lacing our fingers together and kissing my forehead before leading us out of the cell.
"Pshh," I smirked. "Like I'd have to try."