"Merry Christmas, Micah."
I had been ambushed in the kitchen.
Turning off the faucet, I spun around to see the blond nervously clutching a medium-sized box with purple gift wrapping paper. I looked from the present to the anxious smile on his face and, still too shocked to react, dumbly stared at him.
"I'm washing dishes," I lamely offered, because the silence was deafening and he was internally begging for me to break it. His grip tightened on the box.
"I'll just put it here, then," he forced a laugh and looked around at the nearby, plate-cluttered counters.
He was just going to drop it off without me showing him a semblance of gratitude?
"No! Wait!" I stopped him before he could move any further. He froze as I thrust my elbows forward. "I'd like to personally accept it," I said while looking like a moron. I mean, sure, my hands were wet, but this must have seemed weird to him. Instead, he laughed like usual and grabbed my soapy hands, placing the box in my grip. I cringed as the purple paper turned soggy, but he only chuckled at my scrunched nose with an, "I'm not going to make you hold your present with your elbows. I don't care how talented you are!"
And, normally, I would have smiled at him, but I was too preoccupied with the rectangular object in my hands. Darell had given me a Christmas present! I hadn't even thought of that! I couldn't believe I had completely forgotten!
"Darell," I started, hoping the guilt in my voice wasn't too obvious, "I didn't get you anything, yet…"
"Honestly, I just saw this at the store and you popped into my head." I tried not to blush, because he hadn't meant anything by it. "I mean, I don't expect you to return the gesture. It's your last day here and we won't see each other until after Christmas, so…"
"Well, thank you," I muttered, officially determined to get the best, most kickass present in the history of kickass presents.
What will he like? No, what can he use? Practical gifts are the best…And what is that?
The air between us had somehow become thick enough to slice with a knife. God, I could practically feel it! Hesitantly, I glanced up at the serious-looking blond. And, that's when something clicked in my head.
This was it. This was the moment when he would reveal what he had been trying to tell me for the past couple of days. I'd have to be brain-dead not to know that he had been attempting to convey some message. But he wouldn't just spit it out and I wasn't sure I wanted to hear it. So, I had ignored it. But, now, there we were, and he finally seemed ready to talk.
"Micah, I…" he bit his lip, this anxiety and nervousness eating at both of us. "I…"
"There's something I haven't told you."
"This is hard to explain…"
"Since the first time we met, I-"
"Then what about the white one?" Ruthie's voice boomed, spooking the two of us out of our conversation.
WHAT? YOU WHAT? TELL ME, DAMNIT!
And, for some reason, Darell seemed slightly relieved as Rox marched into the kitchen with a scowl the size of Greenland. Ruthie was hot on his heels, her straight black hair flapping behind her as she held tightly onto three different dresses.
"The least you could do is tell me which one!" she whined as the two of them stopped in front of us.
"No," he coolly replied.
"Well, I can't go anywhere if you don't hurry up and decide!" she huffed, tossing the dresses on a nearby chair.
"No," he crossed his arms. I honestly marveled at how he hadn't raised his voice.
"You mean for the red one?"
"Well, now I'm confused," she frowned. "You don't want the red, you don't want the blue, you don't want the white. Just pick one, already!"
He stared at her, his black eyes burning holes into hers.
"No," he slowly articulated and his icy tone sent shivers down my spine. Damn, this kid was scary. But, Ruthie grabbed the dresses and observed them, completely ignoring his dangerous glare.
"Fine, then! If you want to be so picky, I'll choose!"
And, Rox stood there, looking at her as she examined the outfits, his heart dropping faster by the second. I felt this incredible pressure in my chest, like someone was sitting on my lungs. It was difficult to breathe. But, I knew it'd be gone soon, only to be replaced with a hollowness. That empty feeling was familiar and I wasn't going to let this boy experience it. Not under my watch.
So, I kicked him. I lifted my leg and kicked the back of his knee, throwing him off balance just enough to stun him out of his thinking. He turned to me with a scowl, clearly upset by my action and I gave him a meaningful look. No words were exchanged between us, but his anger had been dwindling and I didn't want that. So, again, I kicked his side just enough to get him to turn and face his sister. And, the manhandling worked. His fury exploded like a thousand nuclear bombs going off at the same time, and I grabbed Darell's arm before the show could begin.
The blond looked at me curiously as I pulled him to my side and shushed him. But, I had no time to explain myself, because, next thing we knew, Rox had grabbed the three dresses out of Ruthie's hands and had thrown them to the floor. She gasped at his action, a look of disbelief splayed on her face at his audacity.
"What the hell?! Do you know-"
"Shut up," he growled and everyone froze at the coldness in his tone. Well, everyone except Ruthie. She bristled.
"Don't tell me to-"
"You better shut the fuck up or I'm going to take all these damn dresses and burn them!"
The Snyder Dress Trials. Burn them to the stake!
Okay, so maybe I found this just a tad bit amusing. That didn't mean I wasn't cautious about the scene unfolding before me. Especially the sister's reaction...
The girl was brave, I'd give her that much. Either that or she was too ignorant to see that her twin was serious.
"Burn my dresses and I'll burn your books!"
Ruthie was ruthless…
Rox flinched, but other than that his body and voice didn't betray him losing his cool.
"Here's what we're going to do, sister dearest." Okay, maybe I was starting to have second thoughts about this… "When I say 'No,' you back off. When I say 'Jump,' you ask 'How high?' And we both know that if you don't Dad will find out about the afterschool extracurricular activities, the study groups, your new diet and, oh, let's not forget about Stephen."
She froze. Her body wouldn't move and only her eyes went wide before narrowing dangerously.
"You wouldn't dare…" she glowered.
"And, why wouldn't I?" Rox's voice challenged her to speak and the girl, being Ruthie, did just that.
"Because I'll throw your newest favorite person under the bus…"
Rox flinched and stared right at me.
They were talking about me? Flattering and scary…
Rox's smile turned sinister.
"Go ahead," he smirked at his wary sister. "But, just remember that we look alike…"
I didn't want to know what that meant. Ruthie didn't get it, nor did she understand the importance of his feelings, so she smugly walked away, feeling accomplished.
And, once she was gone, I grabbed Rox by the back of his shirt and placed him between me and Darell.
"No punishing. It's bad for the soul," I chastised and he stared at me with confusion.
"But, you gave me the okay!"
"To stand up for yourself, not ruin her life!"
"I'm only going to get rid of the guy she likes and ground her for eternity…"
"I like how you said 'only,'" I chuckled.
"Now, wait a second. What diet and extracurricular stuff?" Darell jumped in.
But, Rox ignored him. That surprised me. A lot. Instead he turned around and grabbed my sleeve, his black eyes shyly examining the floor.
"She was going to lie about you…"
I chuckled some more and ruffled his hair.
"Like that'd do her any good. I'm leaving today."
I felt him tense.
"Can't you stay a bit…longer?"
I couldn't say no, not with the way his eyes were pleading. And, knowing that he was doing it on purpose didn't help one bit, because he wanted me to stay and he'd do anything in his power to make this happen. He and Ruthie really were twins, despite everything.
"I'm sorry, buddy, but Micah's got a family of his own to see." Darell, my angel on Earth, grabbed his brother's shoulder and steered him away from me. I had almost agreed to something I couldn't do!
"But, I need him!" Rox growled at the blond who was pushing him to his blue room.
"No, you don't," Darell snickered as he shoved him on his bed.
"Well, I want him!" These muffled words barely reached my ears as the jock quickly closed the door behind him and sighed from exertion.
"Let's get you packing before he hides your clothes," he laughed as he approached me, grabbed my hand and pulled me to his room.
I was putting the gift Darell had given me in the suitcase when Ruthie walked by the room and stopped to look at me. She frowned and flipped her hair.
That's what I heard before she walked away. And, despite knowing her attitude, her words hurt a bit…
I was looking for Darell to ask him about my jacket, when I heard hissing in a nearby room. And, because I'm not a cat and therefore don't have to worry about curiosity stabbing me in the back, I opened the door and peeked in. Ruthie and Rox were sitting on the sickeningly pink bed whispering to each other.
"Because of you, Darell knows about Stephen! Why'd you have to open your big mouth?"
"Shut it, stupid! Since when did Micah do something for you to threaten him?"
"Since he made you start talking like this! He's poison and you know it!"
"You're poison! And you're just pissed that I can talk!"
"Am I the only one who sees what's he's doing to us? Within one week you're fighting and cussing, Dad's worried and Darell's in the process of becoming a slave!"
"You dumb bleep! I'm speaking up and Dad's not worried or stressed, he's curious!"
"Curious? Is that the best excuse you can come up with? Curious about what?"
"God, you're so selfish! All you care about is being fawned over!"
"I'm not selfish!"
"Then, you would have noticed that Darell is doing more than being your mom!"
"I don't need a mom!"
"That's not the point! You don't give a crap that your brother is having fun and acting his age. All you care about is him doing stuff that involves you!"
"He's not having fun! He's always worrying and coddling that pessimistic weirdo after every damn tantrum!"
"You don't fucking get it! So much for women's intuition…"
I wouldn't hear any more of this. It was constant back and forth between two unyielding forces. But, hey, at least they were talking…
What had I been looking for? Oh, right…
"Hey, Darell…" I watched the blond as he stuffed several towels in the dryer. "What was it that you wanted to tell me?"
He winced, pressed the grey button making the dryer rumble, and slowly turned to me, his arms crossed.
"Alright," he exhaled, trying to compose himself. "Just hear me out, okay?"
"Of course," I sighed, because, by God, that's all I ever did!
He leaned against the dryer like the cool cat he was and I looked around for some chairs or something in case I fainted from shock. The way he was acting, he was probably going to confess to murder. I'd definitely need a chair for that…
"The thing is, and this might sound crazy to you, but-"
"I said I wasn't going to!" Ruthie stormed into the room, followed by a pissed Rox.
Now that was weird…
"You better take that back!" the boy shouted.
"Are you deaf? I said no!"
The two of them stopped in front of us.
"Take. It. Back!" he shouted, his hands turning into fists.
"Or what, you're going to punch me?"
Rox flinched and gaped at her. He stood across from his sister in total silence, as if dissecting her with his gaze. Slowly, he gathered himself and closed his eyes, trying to attain a calmer state of mind.
"Darell," he spoke, his voice controlled and mature, "I want nothing to do with this female." And, when he opened his eyes, we all knew he was very serious. The blond looked floored and, to my surprise, Ruthie did too. I guess she finally understood, even if it was just a bit, that her twin couldn't deal with her. This point was further driven into her skull when Rox turned to me and stared into my eyes, conveying a message that I received loud and clear.
I opened my arms and he walked right into my hug. And, it was the worst move for me, because the moment I held him, his frustration and sadness flooded me. I bit my lip to get it to stop quivering. Ruthie and Darell stared at me as the boy in my arms vented wordlessly.
"I need you," he finally said.
That was untrue. Sure, I made the communication process easier, but, other than that, there was no real need.
I tilted his head so that we were gazing at each other.
"No, you don't," I firmly replied. He looked near tears.
"I want you," he clutched at my hand, lowering his gaze.
"I'm sorry," was the best I could offer. It wasn't enough. It never would be, but it had to do.
And then he did something that made me reconsider my thoughts. His shoulders shook and his chest heaved. Other than feeling his body tremble, I had no indication that Rox was doing something very un-Rox-like. But, when I felt my shirt getting wet, I knew that this boy in my arms was crying.
Oh, God, Rox was crying!
This was not good…
Normally, I was capable of handling others' emotions and stuff, but this…I just hadn't seen this coming. Not from Rox. I mean, give me a break! He was as bad as moi on the topic of self-expression!
Panic consumed me. And Darell and Ruthie were just staring. I hadn't even considered any of this ever happening! But, now that I was in the middle of such a predicament, what was I supposed to do? Should I have told everyone to go away? No, wait, they were family. That wouldn't be right. But, he didn't usually display his emotions, so he probably wanted privacy. What the fuck was I supposed to do?!
"Why are you doing this to me?" I froze at his weak voice.
"I finally meet someone who gets me and now you're leaving just like that!"
I really was floundering at this point.
"I-I'm only here for the week," I managed to squeak. "I can't stay permanently!"
Seriously! I couldn't! That was just ridiculous! Totally unheard of!
"I know!" he pushed off me, wiping his eyes. "But, I don't want you to leave me alone!"
I saw Darell tense. Oh, shit, this was getting too deep too quickly.
I looked down at the boy with tears in his dark eyes.
"You're not alone." He snorted at my words, which really drove the point home for the blond. "Listen! You're not alone! Your Dad loves you and your brother adores you! Ruthie is difficult," that was definitely a snicker, "but she does care. And I do, too. Very much." He was listening. Listening was good. "So, here's what we'll do. I'll give you my number and I want you to call me whenever you feel like talking. Okay? I don't care if it's at one in the morning. You can call. Darell can tell you that I'll most likely pick up," I shot the blond a nervous smile. He didn't return it. His eyes were glued on his younger brother. They were filled with concern.
"It's not the same…" Rox mumbled and I squeezed his shoulders comfortingly.
"It'll have to do," I said and walked away to get a pen and paper. But, before I stepped into the hallway, the blond's eyes met mine and I nodded in the 15-year-old's direction. My message had been successfully passed on and Darell immediately swooped down and hugged his brother.
Oh, God, this family needed some direction, but even without it, it was the best thing ever!
I was sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of hot cocoa in my hand, when Darell walked in. I peeked up at him and he looked tired as crap. I pulled out a chair for him and he gladly took it.
"Thanks," he exhaled as he melted into the seat. His body turned into a boneless heap and I stared at my toes, trying to distract myself from having inappropriate thoughts.
"So, how'd it go?" I asked and the blond sat up, running his hand through his hair.
"Some things need to change, but he's a strong kid. He'll be fine…"
We sat there in silence for a full minute. The longest minute of my life!
"So, now that he's got your number you'll sleep even less," the blond tried being funny, but all indirect jabs at Leslie weren't amusing.
"Instead of worrying about phone calls, why don't you tell me about that thing?"
We both knew what I was talking about, and the more we got cut off, the more Darell seemed to want to just get this over with.
"Okay, here's the thing, Micah. When I was-"
"Darell," Ruthie strutted into the room. "Can I talk to you about something?" She glanced at me. "In private?"
Oh, come on! We were this close. This fucking close!
"I'll go water the gardenias," I growled exasperatedly, getting up from my seat and stomping away. And, I knew they were looking at me weirdly, because there were no flowers on the property.
My mom was parked in the driveway, waiting for me to join her in her punch buggy. Mr. Snyder was talking to her animatedly about one thing or another, and, judging by her reaction, she wholeheartedly agreed with him. Let me tell you, that didn't happen often. And I was standing at the front door, staring at three faces. Ruthie had been courteous enough to see me off, even if she couldn't wait for me to disappear. Rox had steeled himself and was squeezing my number in his hand, effectively crumpling the paper. And Darell, well, he seemed sad enough, but there was no way he was going to say a word about it.
The silence spread among us. No one was talking. I dumbly stood in front of them, clutching my suitcase. I couldn't imagine how uncomfortable this must have looked to an outsider. Still, unlike the father, I didn't know what to say. My mouth just wouldn't work and neither would Darell's. We both shifted from foot to foot and Ruthie rolled her eyes at us before giving up and disappearing into the house. The blond nervously ran his fingers through his hair before taking a step forward.
"Hi …" he mumbled.
I froze. Then, I snorted. Then, I laughed.
"Dude, you should live in Hawaii. There, hello and goodbye are the same word!"
His ears turned red and he crossed his arms.
"Yeah, well, you should go to, um, Sweden, because they've got…uh…people…" I tried to contain myself, but, my God, was it hard! "Oh, shut up!" he hissed.
"No, you're right. Sweden does have people. I should go there," I chuckled. "Well, tell me all about the hula dancers when I see you again," I chirped and turned around to walk to the car. Half-way there, I heard steps rapidly approaching and I stopped for them to catch up.
"Hey, Micah," Darell grabbed my arm and spun me around. His anxiety hit me like a ton of bricks. "Look, there's something you need to know." I quickly glanced around to see if anyone was going to interrupt. Rox was still at the door, Mr. Snyder and mom were by the car, Ruthie was in the house and no animals or inanimate objects were flying at us. We were in the clear, so I gave him my full attention. He let go of me and took a step back, nervously twiddling his thumbs.
"So, here's the thing. When I was in high school, I was popular. I'm not saying that to boast or anything, but it's true. I mean, I was good at basketball, otherwise I wouldn't have gotten that scholarship, and I guess I was nice enough because I didn't have problems with anyone-"
"If you're going to tell me your life story, you have to start from when you were born," I teased, a bit uncertain about where this was going.
He looked at me as if I was about to butcher him. I swear, I wasn't! There was no machete or saw in my hand!
Seriously, this was maddening.
"Spit it out, already!"
"I'VE GOT A GIRLFRIEND!"
Okay, now spit it back in!
A/N: I thought I was going to be updating like crazy, but it's exam time. Stress or no stress, I've got to study. But, I promise the next chapter is going to be a monster. Though, I'm not sure if that's a good thing...