Chapter 23: 'We Need to Talk' are the Words that Strike Fear into the Hearts of Men

She wondered what he was thinking about while the water grew progressively cooler around them. Some awkwardness was also starting to seep in after two full minutes had passed with him quietly holding her in his arms. That was why she avoided impulsive actions – she never had a follow up plan.

"Remember, you're the one who came to me first," he finally said and nuzzled her hair. It wasn't the first time he reminded her of an overgrown cat.

"Sure, keep telling yourself that." She teased half-heartedly. So that was what he was thinking about – who won over whom. How typical of him.

His hands framed her face and tilted it up. Looking deep into her eyes, he repeated, "You're the one who came to me."

She stared back at him sharply, but held her tongue. Obviously, he was trying to affirm something, and she wasn't good at guessing the strange workings of his mind. Yes, she'd noticed him keeping his distance in school, waiting for her decision. She was positive he'd also realized who was better at the waiting game. So he'd set up the stage in Bali, put her right in the center, and waited for her reaction as usual. And if that hadn't worked, he'd have figured out some other way to hurry her up.

That driver he'd sent at the hotel had eagerly thrown her luggage in the car, and was most likely just seconds away from forcing her inside with it. When she'd visited her friends earlier, the same driver had adamantly argued he should stick around with the car, so he could immediately take her back when she was done with her visit. For someone who got his salary from Alexander's family, it was clear what orders he'd received. Alex claiming she'd had a choice was a bald-faced lie. That was, unless she'd insisted upon refusing to the point of being rude to an unrelated person.

Now he had the gall to look at her like he'd won. It was slightly irritating, but she didn't really mind his deviousness. Contrary to any rationality, she found it cute. Keeping her serious face on, she conceded. "Fine."

The staring contest was over. He leaned down for a soft kiss, his lips nudging hers lazily. She pushed back against him briefly, before noting, "You're cold."

He kissed her once more, then smoothed the hair out of her face carefully. "We should get out of the water," he agreed.

Her fingers were already pruny from all that time spent soaking, so she readily glided toward the side of the pool. She pulled herself up, then turned around to sit on the edge. Alex was still in, a lot closer, as if he'd followed her. His eyes quickly darted up to meet hers.

"What, were you looking at my butt?" She guessed a little self-consciously.

"You're not supposed to comment every time you catch me," he complained with a playful smile. "But yeah, it was right in front of me. I'm only human."

Thinking of it, she hadn't caught him staring at any of her body parts before, usually only the face. He always stared at it like he couldn't figure out what to do with her. It's not like she didn't understand the desire to keep someone in her line of sight. She could never get enough of his smoldering eyes whenever he was riled up or angry. Good thing others didn't dare anger him, so they wouldn't know that devastatingly sexy face of his. His life would become increasingly more frustrating if people found out. Though it was possible that she was the weird one for getting hot under his glares.

She flushed at the realization that he did notice her body after all, albeit discretely. Just as he placed his hands to the side of her knees in preparation to lift himself out, her foot pushed against his shoulder, keeping him down. "You're a perv," she stated in response to earlier, while her heart trembled in anticipation. How would he react?

He appeared startled at first, then his eyelids lowered as he glanced at the foot still perched on his shoulder. It looked white and delicate in comparison to his big frame.

"You want to play?" He asked silkily. The boy sure was quick to jump to the occasion. It flattered her greatly, and if she hadn't paid attention, her face would've broken out in a pleased grin.

"Sure, we can play. As long as you're fine with us being together only during this trip. After we return, we'll go back to how we were."

"No." He seized her foot by the ankle, as if to prevent her from running. Naturally, she had no intention to run. "Are you trying to go back on your word?"

"What word was that?" She smiled down at him angel-like.

The question prompted him to think back on their short exchange earlier. As his expression darkened, she knew he had realized exactly how slippery she could be. Yes, she had said 'fine'. 'Fine' to coming to him first, nothing about staying. He was ten years too early to think he'd won over her.

"You evil girl, you're too much. To think I was happy for a moment." Releasing her ankle, he swiftly pulled himself out of the pool and forced her down on the ground. With him kneeling over her, water running down his skin and dripping onto hers, she nearly forgot her objective, which wasn't to jump his surly bones right this second.

Randee opened her mouth to retort, but he spoke first. "However, if you're suggesting you'll only be mine as long as we're abroad, I'm game." She raised her eyebrows at that.

"Just be advised, you'll get sick of flying long before I run out of resources. And I do intend to take you to every single tiny ghost village in every single fucking country you can find on the map. Better free up all your weekends."

A few uncontrollable giggles escaped her despite her best efforts. He was saying such outrageous things so seriously. In her opinion, he'd get sick of her long before she would get sick of flying. Who in their right mind would tire themselves out to that degree just to have sex. Empty threats was all she heard.

He watched her steadily as she calmed down. "I notice you tend to not take my words seriously," he remarked casually. "Have I been too lenient?"

"Okay." She raised her hand to shut him up. "Before this goes on in a strange direction, as fun as it is, I meant something entirely different. That is, if you'd like for us to be a real couple, we'll need to discuss some things first. If you're after sex, however, it's fine to not talk and just go at it like rabbits for the duration of this trip."

"You seriously need to be clearer about what you mean to say," he muttered as he stood up, no longer trapping her to the floor. "Let's get dry first, then meet in the living room to discuss whatever's on your mind."

With a deep, exasperated sigh, he headed off to his bedroom. Her shoulders still shook as she stared at his retreating back. That overreaction of his was priceless. What, take her abroad every weekend? How did he even come up with these ideas?

Picking herself up, she went to change out of the bathing suit and into something warmer. Her interrogation got the green light, and she intended to make full use of it. Although it wasn't an easy feat refusing her own body's instincts, she'd have lost her nerve to ask him anything if she'd slept with him first, taking instead the cowardly stance that not knowing was better than a possibly bad reality, in which he truly caused a girl to end up in a hospital. She trusted him right now. The situation was probably different than what Michelle believed. But also, she never trusted anyone 100%. And if he really cased a girl harm, she wouldn't betray womankind by accepting him. A guy who hurt girls didn't deserve a happy end with one. How would that be fair. In short, she needed to find out the truth sooner rather than later.

Half an hour later, they were sitting next to each other in the living room. Alexander was leaning back comfortably, waiting for her to begin her questioning.

"How many girlfriends have you had?" She decided to start from afar, and he frowned.

"21 before you," he said after a brief pause. He seemed hesitant to answer, and with good reason. 21 girlfriends for a boy who's age was still in the tens. That would make a girl a month on average since he'd started high school. She palmed her face in disbelief.

"I've only slept with five of them." He defended himself before she could attack.

"Only five?" she mocked. "You realize there are old men with less history than you."

"Are you sure you want to ask me these questions?" He looked annoyed to be in that situation, but she wasn't going to let him escape yet.

"What were you even doing? Trying to set a record?"

He didn't reply, choosing to remain silent and wait the storm out. Probably a good decision, as anything he added to the conversation was bound to put in him deeper trouble. 21 girls! Were they that interchangeable to him? A true enemy of women.

"Do you at least remember their names and faces?"

"Of course, I wouldn't want to go back to them by mistake." Glancing at her, he closed his mouth immediately under her glare.

"Has it crossed your mind that if it consistently doesn't work out with them, the problem might be with you? Honestly, what makes you so great that you can look down on women this much?" The line of questioning was slowly derailing, but since the day she'd asked him out and he'd laid those insane rules for dating, although it hadn't concerned her at all right then, it had apparently remained in a corner of her mind.

"Yes, it was my problem," he agreed in a harsh voice. "I was looking for more than they could offer. They had me believing that girls were shallow, greedy and incapable of an interesting conversation. All of my topics were boring to them, and all of their topics were boring to me. Aside from their company and their touch, they had little else to offer, and most often than not I felt alone even with them right beside me. Although half of those girls were quite smart academically, they would always agree with my opinions, act shy, keep mostly quiet around me and my friends."

"They were obviously trying to please you," Randee remarked as she listened.

"But it's that realization that they're trying too hard, and they don't behave naturally around me, that put a distance between us. It's alright if you want to appear nice, but to constantly keep that up, just seems like putting on an act, and rather insincere. I'm not sure whether they actually knew who they were going out with. They all had some convenient image of me and didn't bother to dig deeper."

"I don't remember digging deeper myself, though," she noted. "For consistency's sake, I wonder what made you think I'm different."

He looked her over dubiously. "I hope you're not trying to make me list the reasons I like you. Anyway, what you're doing right now is trying to understand me, I suppose."

"Easy to please, aren't you?" She would've liked to hear his list in any case. Too bad he wanted to keep it to himself. "However, people change. For example, if you like how I always oppose you, you'd be disappointed when I turn more compliant later on."

He raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Really? I'd love to see the day." His proclamation earned him a poke in the ribs. "I'm sure I'll change together with you. Besides, liking someone isn't as simple as having a wishlist fulfilled."

His arm sneaked around her waist and tugged her closer. "Now that we're over the cringe-worthy topic of my past girlfriends, what else are you curious about?"

"It's not quite over yet." She turned sideways to look him in the eyes. "Do you remember going out with Annette Devoreaux?"

Judging by the way he quickly lost his smile, he did remember her. So far, so good.

"She's Michelle's cousin, so I've heard a few things about you two. Right now, my closest friend thinks the worst of you."

"And what do you think of me?" He held her gaze with an inscrutable expression.

"Unless you confirm it, even if the whole world tells me you're the devil, I'll still see you as I choose," she stated clearly. After all, she wasn't one to be swayed by others' comments, until she'd investigated the matter herself. She had seen first hand how rumors grew to have a life of their own. And although she trusted her friends, there was still the possibility of a misunderstanding.

His thumb caressed her lips gently as he held her face. "What a sweet mouth. I'll believe your words then."

"I never dated Annette," he started firmly. "I met her during the summer after I'd had yet another disappointing break up. We moved in the same circles and she started getting closer to me. At first, everything seemed normal, and I was thinking that we might click, but she got increasingly clingier. Constantly checking on my whereabouts, calling at all hours of the day, getting jealous over any girl I looked at, using my friends as information sources to show up wherever I went. Everyone thought she was cute and head over heels in love with me. They said I should give her a chance and date her after all her efforts, but honestly, it was stifling and disgusting. Especially the way she spoke, overly submissive, looking to get my permission for everything, even for a mundane thing like what she should eat for lunch."

The girl sounded like a stalker, and apparently his friends hadn't seen the situation clearly, instead encouraging her further. Randee waited silently for him to go on, though she had a few things to say about his own sometimes stalkerish behavior. Sure, he excused it as protecting her, when she had clearly told him he need not meddle in her affairs. Michael's warning crept quietly in her thoughts. Did Alex really have people watching her without her knowledge? How else could he consistently show up at the exact time she was in perceived danger. Although he hadn't shown up when Danny had confronted her.

To her utter personal dismay, she'd enjoyed Alex's rather heavy attention. At the very least she couldn't lie to herself about it, even if it confused her. He seemed intent to force her in a safe bubble, where she would stay ignorant of any harm, as he would take care of it behind her back. And she was intent on escaping that bubble each time. What she needed were supportive words, not overbearing protection, and she hoped to make him see that fact soon.

"At that point it wasn't anything too alarming," the boy continued and she snapped her attention back to him. "I'd thought I could clear things up between us with a talk, so I told her I had no interest in a romantic relationship, and didn't appreciate her phone terror. I was completely open with her, paying attention to keep my tone neutral. Not too kind and not too rude. She just made me nervous, trying to anticipate her reactions. She said nothing after the talk, making me hope she'd understood my point. But later that night I got a text, which said she would kill herself if I dumped her, and that I should go find her immediately, unless I wanted her dead. Aside from the point that we never went out, showing up to save her would've led to another mess. I called her friends instead, urging them to check on her, and sent an ambulance just in case. She had actually cut her wrists and was lying in the bathtub when they reached her. Thankfully, she hadn't cut too deep, and it hadn't been too long, so they managed to save her life. I heard from a friend she's still getting treated, but I don't know any details. I guess I am a cold bastard, but I find it's better for both of us if I don't show any more interest in her."

"No, I think I would've done the same," Randee said and took his hand in hers distractedly. "It's such a troublesome case, and you don't owe her anything. Threatening with suicide to earn affection is the lowest, not to mention pointless. No one in this world would dare flirt if they always had to be careful of raising someone's hopes up, in case they turned out to be suicidal."

He sank in the backrest, lost in thought, and let her explore the long fingers in peace. Perhaps it was not the best time to turn the topic towards him, yet she was curious. Could he see the similarities between Annette and himself? In the first place Randee had no clue as to why he was so persistent with her. He had to know they didn't stand a chance as a couple in the long run. His relentless chase would amount to nothing, when his parents finally got involved. She had no desire to date despite all odds, while defying his parents and society's disapproval, like some martyr heroine. She wanted an easy, comfortable life, where she depended on herself and got no nasty surprises from out of nowhere. She could allow Alex's willful obsession for now, and even take pleasure from it, as she expected it to end eventually.

"Alright, now that I got your side of the story, I feel relieved," she announced after the long pause, during which they had both been occupied with their own contemplation. "I guess I am a selfish bitch, but I'd rather not go out with a jerk."

He looked up as she mimicked his earlier speech, and met her smiling face. "Oh? So now that you know I'm not a jerk, you can go out with me?"

She pretended to ponder his question. "You're tolerable, I suppose," she allowed theatrically, then brought up his captive hand and kissed the palm. "I've decided to set my heart on you, which means I'm allowing you to hurt me if you speak carelessly."

Whether he was touched or not, she couldn't guess from those hooded eyes of his. She still had loads of questions for him, but they could all wait, having gone over the most pressing one. If nothing drastic happened, they would have at least one more year together for her to satisfy her curiosity, and then turn him into a bittersweet memory. Comparing the two types of regret she could potentially have – either for not being with him while she still could, or for inevitably ending up with a broken heart; she'd rather take a year of feeling happy and passionate, than a lifetime filled with safe, lukewarm emotions. And she did expect a broken heart. She wasn't immune to his gentle kisses, and had no doubt she'd get attached to the point of pain the longer they were together.

Oblivious to her inner resolution, the boy in question embraced her tightly. She would've preferred to kiss, honestly, but after their somber talk, it was probably inappropriate.

"I'll speak with your friend tomorrow," he offered without any prompting. "We'll clear this up, so it won't be awkward between us. I hadn't realized that my silence on the matter would turn into the sort of misunderstanding that would bother you."

"I'm glad you told me everything," she murmured into his neck, enjoying the way he was stroking her hair. "I'll make sure we fight lots and make up afterwards."

His hands slipped at her sudden declaration. "Please spare me. Let's have peace instead."

She chuckled softly to herself. "Let's watch something. I'm not sleepy yet, and the TV here is too obnoxious to ignore."

Without changing their entangled position, he fished for the remote under the coffee table. "Sure, I have some movies ready. As long as you don't mind 'boring French films'."

She groaned, but gave in without a fight. "It's your taste. I gotta embrace it. Who knows, they might work better than sleeping pills."