Chapter Six: A Torment to Herself

Nyla never wasted any time when Allira invited her over. It was fantastic, purchasing a croissant or muffin from Amara's, but getting one absolutely free was even better. Besides, Allira's mother was perfectly sweet, always stuffing Nyla with too much food, and the Dristis always had a fully-stocked refrigerator. Allira's friendship meant a lot more than just late-night conversations, faithful secret-keeping and side-along popularity. It also meant tasty treats in the afternoons, especially when Nyla's mother worked nights and her own cupboards were empty.

"I don't understand," said Nyla, through a mouthful of cranberry muffin, "why you can't just ask Sawyer out."

Allira rolled her eyes good-naturedly, raising an eyebrow at the crumbs Nyla was spilling on the tabletop. "He's not interested," she sighed, leaning back in her chair and raking her fingers through thick, curly hair. "He likes Jackie."

Nyla snorted. She found it hard to believe that anyone would cast Allira aside, especially Sawyer, who had seemed so promisingly interested in her. Their constant flirtation had kept the gossip train going at full steam, so much so that the entire school was betting on when they would get together. Jackie was presenting an unwarranted stop, and it seemed as if the train would pause indefinitely if Sawyer hooked up with her. If you asked Nyla, she would be inclined to believe that Sawyer was trying to make Allira jealous. And if she was judging by the sour look on Allira's face, it was working.

"Besides," Allira continued, downing the rest of her coffee, "I'm not interested either."

"Right," Nyla said sarcastically. "You just think he's hot."

Allira shrugged. Then, her lips twitched in that familiar, self-satisfied smirk. "Maybe you should be paying less attention to the gossip mill, Nyla, and more attention to talking with Charlie. I hear he's single."

Nyla looked away. Another habit of Allira's was shifting the attention from herself to others when she was uncomfortable. Nyla's problem wasn't that she liked Charlie, but that she was pretending to in order to keep her real crush a secret. She thought she had it figured out, that Allira would leave it alone, but now that Sawyer was here, it seemed her closest friend would need a constant distraction.

Darn.


Biology seemed to be a conversation-starter for Charlie and Sawyer. Or, more specifically, an opportunity for Charlie to ask pointed, intrusive questions, mostly regarding Sawyer's questionable relationship with Allira. Sawyer was considering switching desks or something, to avoid the constant interrogation. He liked Charlie a lot – he was a good friend – but the boy was too enthusiastic sometimes. It was unnerving.

Case in point: in the middle of a Biochemistry review, Charlie decided to interrupt by asking Sawyer a question, which, as usual, had nothing to do with Biology.

"Why don't you just ask Allira out?" he said thoughtfully, tapping his pen against his mouth absentmindedly. His eyes were focused on the diagram of the cell membrane of an animal cell in front of him, but his words were directed precisely at his seat-partner.

"Because," Sawyer said, rather politely, in his opinion, "she's not my type."

Charlie snorted, in a way very similar to Nyla's previous one. "You're trying to make her jealous, aren't you?"

Sawyer put down his pen, glancing over at Charlie with an impressed twitch of the lips. Clearly, Charlie was experienced in the art of jealousy. Sawyer could gather that before he had made his appearance, Charlie had been the closest thing to the It Boy. He wondered if Allira had ever dated him. The thought was making him jealous.

He shrugged. "She gets all the guys she wants – I bet no one's said no to her. It's about time someone teases her for a bit." He grinned. "Besides, it's fun, watching her squirm."

Charlie shook his head. "You popular people," he said, sighing, returning to his textbook. "Never do anything normally."


When Allira and Nyla joined their usual lunch table, the other girls were giggling and pointing across the room. From where she was standing, Allira could see Sawyer and Jackie in deep conversation, and upon looking back at the girls, she realized that they weren't making fun of the couple, but rather, they were looking on in awe and girlish glee on behalf of Jackie. Nyla raised an eyebrow when Allira slammed down her bag and took a huffy seat. The others were too absorbed with their gossip about the couple to notice.

"Something bothering you?" said Nyla lightly, opening her container of salad. Allira passed her a packet of raspberry vinaigrette dressing and muttered a response.

"The usual."

"It'll pass," Nyla said soothingly, coating the lettuce and tomatoes in sweet sauce. "He's only one guy."

Allira's gaze flicked to Sawyer, who was patiently explaining something from the Biology textbook to Jackie. She didn't look very interested in what he was saying as much as how he was saying it. Allira had suddenly lost her appetite.

"Allira," said one of the girls at their table – Steffi. "Do you have an extra fork I can borrow?"

The other girl looked down at her uncovered container of spaghetti and passed Steffi the fork she was going to use to eat it. "Here," she said.

"Thanks," Steffi said brightly. She followed Allira's line of vision when it momentarily detoured to the table across the room. "Aren't they adorable?" she gushed.

"Yeah. Really sweet," Allira replied, pursing her lips. Jackie looked up at that minute, and when her eyes locked with her friend's, she smiled and gave a wave. Sawyer glanced up from the textbook as a result, and he smirked at Allira when he saw who his soon-to-be-girlfriend, apparently, was saying hello to. Allira smirked back, glad that he couldn't quite see the anger in it.

"We need to start going out for lunch," she said to Nyla. The other girl gave a knowing nod.


At the opposite table, where Sawyer sat with Jackie and his new group of friends, he was picking at his macaroni and cheese with a decided pout on his lips. Jackie thought it looked adorable, but she was afraid of saying anything, for fear that he'd find it too cheesy. Of all the things she had become knowledgeable about in her investigation of Sawyer Brydon, the one that stood out to her the most was his aversion to the lovey-dovey ways of couples. He preferred to flirt, if his behaviour with Allira indicated anything.

Speaking of, Jackie was wondering what had happened to that particular train. She looked over at her friend, who – as usual – was making some unfortunate boy very red in the face with her flirtatious comments. When her eyes returned to Sawyer, he wasn't looking at his meal anymore. Instead, his gaze was also on the golden girl of Beaufort High, the pout growing into a frown. Jackie's eyes narrowed.

"Hey, uh, Sawyer," she said quickly, vying for his attention.

"Yeah?" he replied, turning back to her, open.

"Could you tell me what you know about phospholipid bilayers?" she asked, tracing the diagram in the textbook. "I understand the cytoplasmic makeup, but it's the fats that are bothering me."

He glanced down at the volume between them, as if just realizing that it was there, and then cleared his throat. "Sure," he answered. He sounded genuine enough.

But then again, across the aisle, Allira's flirtation with Chandler Hoon seemed genuine enough as well.


For Sawyer's more nefarious purposes, the location of Chandler's locker was fortunate. For the unmistakeable crawl of jealousy under his skin, it was the opposite. Nevertheless, he lingered around the general area of his own locker after he'd put his books away at the end of the day. Down the corridor, Nyla was alone, speaking in hushed tones with someone on her cell phone. Allira was nowhere to be seen, but he knew, from a conversation he'd overheard, that she was baking all afternoon at Amara's.

"All lunch," he said. "All lunch, she was talking to me. I'm thinking about asking her out."

"But Chandler," said one of his friends, "you only like her because she's Allira Dristi."

"So?" he shrugged. "That's the only reason any of us like her."

Sawyer's grip on his textbook grew almost painfully tight.

"True."

Before he could turn away from the filth that was Chandler's conversation, Charlie's presence did it for him. The boy was whistling as he grabbed books from his locker, tossing in assignments casually, adding to the pile that was accumulating at the bottom of the locker. A few were beginning to spill out, but he kicked them back in with a leisurely foot. When he was through, he turned to Sawyer and offered a hello.

"Is James Maslow interested in Allira at all?" said Sawyer, referring to the brunette Allira had been speaking to throughout their Home Economics classes.

Charlie grinned wolfishly. "Everyone's interested in Allira, Sawyer."

"I meant," Sawyer said impatiently, hitting his friend with the textbook, "in a romantic way."

"Sure he is," Charlie replied promptly. "But his girlfriend is preventing him from doing much about it."

Even Sawyer couldn't suppress the sigh of relief that came after such a statement. "He has a girlfriend?"

"Yeah – she sits at our table. Amanda, remember? Straight hair, big blue eyes, always wears a flower on her lapel?"

The flower brought back the memory. "Right," Sawyer murmured, drumming his fingers upon the textbook.

"Trust me," Charlie said reassuringly. "Allira's not dating anyone."

"Then why is she flirting with every guy in the vicinity?" Sawyer demanded, suspicious. Charlie shrugged.

"To make you jealous?"

"Well –" he marched off, and Charlie had to run to keep up with him.

"Well what?" asked Charlie, still grinning. Why did he have to be so damn cheerful all the time? Would it kill him to keep a straight face for once?

"It's working," muttered Sawyer, sounding almost regretful.


"Guess what," Polly said, her mouth so full of food that it really came out as a garbled lump of words. It was only because Sawyer knew his sister so well that he could discern even in the slightest what she was saying.

"What," he responded, unenthusiastic. He had his feet propped up on the coffee table, his eyes on the television, but he wasn't really watching the teenybopper melodrama Polly had on. She didn't seem to be looking at it either, and that was why he eventually turned it off. For once, she didn't complain, but it was probably because she was more interested in teasing him about whatever she planned on bringing up

"Mom brought cookies," his sister said, "from Amara's."

"Why?" he questioned, a little surprised. "She never buys cookies."

"The owner gave them to us as a welcome gift, from the family."

"That's nice," Sawyer said. "I guess her name's Amara?"

"Probably," Polly shrugged, picking a chocolate chip off of one of the cookies she held in her hand. They practically dwarfed her fingers. It was making Sawyer hungry.

"Are there any more?" he started to say, but Polly was already pointing to the plate on the kitchen table.

"I left you six," she said solemnly. "I hope that's enough."

He shook his head, somewhat good-natured, and then went for the cookies.

"Did Amara tell you who baked them?" asked Sawyer a few moments later, after he'd devoured the oven-baked dough in its entirety.

"No," said Polly playfully. "Why, do they taste like Allira?" Her voice went fluttery and soft at the last word; it made him scowl. He didn't like having his personal life plastered across the Brydon news, readily available for his mother or sister to use in one of their arguments or worse, one of their teasing stints.

"No," said Sawyer, bluntly. "Would you stop bothering me about her?"

Slowly, Polly shook her head.


"I think," said his mother, over the remaining cookies later in the evening, "Allira is overcompensating for something."

She could really only perform her amateur psychoanalysis when Polly had gone to bed and when her own work was completed. Delicately, Mrs. Brydon dipped a piece of the cookie into her milk, then raised it to her mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "Or," she said, postulating, "she's extremely self-centered."

"Which do you think is more likely?" Sawyer asked, not bothering to be dainty about the way he soaked his cookies in milk. His mother gave a sympathetic shrug.

"I need to speak with her directly," she said, apologetic. "But I doubt that she's the latter. Her mother and I discussed her volunteering when I went to the bakery this afternoon. She works at Amara's for free, you know. And she teaches a cooking class every year." A little smile came to his mother's lips. "But Amara said she has to force Allira to do it now, because she hates dealing with gunk in her hair from the little ones."

The same smile touched Sawyer's mouth when he thought about that curly, wild hair stuck with various and possibly strange-smelling kitchen ingredients.

"Tell me," she continued, looking her son in the eye, "do you think she likes you?"

He shrugged noncommittally. "Maybe," Sawyer hedged.

Mrs. Brydon sighed in frustration. "You're just like your father," she said. "Always hedging."

The mention of his late father was enough to lapse them both into silence.

"You know," said Marie, sounding a bit emotional, "I can't help but wonder if this would be easier if your father was still here."

In an attempt to lighten the mood, Sawyer snorted, though he really didn't feel like it.

"He wouldn't know where to begin," her son answered, an almost painful smile on his face. "Dad wasn't really a ladies' man."

Marie appreciated the humour. "He thought he was," she said wryly. "Maybe it's rubbed off on you."

"That one hurt," said Sawyer, smirking only a little. Marie reached across the table and wrapped her hands around her son's.

"Do me a favour, will you?" she said softly. "Talk to Allira as a person. Don't flirt with her anymore - bring up something thought-provoking. Not everything has to be about sex, you know."

"How am I supposed to do that when I'm dating Jackie?" asked Sawyer.

Mrs. Brydon's eyebrows rose. "Excuse me? You're dating who?"

One side of his mouth hitched up in a sheepish grin.


Yes, I realize it's well overdue, but I couldn't seem to find the motivation for this one! It's been a while, but hopefully I'll be spitting out chapters within weeks and not months! :) Thanks to all who've subscribed and reviewed (I command you to do so again!) and here's hoping you enjoyed this update! Thanks again!


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