Amber twirled around, flashing lights catching on her shimmering dress and long, blonde hair. The music pounded and her body moved in time, so in tune with it that it was like they were one. She was dancing up on the dais, centre of attention as always. There were people around her but she outshone them all, sparkling like a diamond amongst dirt. Her dress was glittery enough. Everyone else around her gave her a wide berth, except for the man she was dancing with. His hands were placed possessively on her hips but she didn't even seem to notice, as immersed in the music as she was.
Or it could be an effect of the huge amounts of alcohol she had surely consumed earlier.
Nate frowned as he pushed his way through the sweating, dancing bodies towards her. The flashing lights combined with the pulsing music made his head hurt. The stench of smoke also hung in the air, even though he couldn't see anyone smoking. People gave him dirty looks as he passed, but he persevered on until he'd reached the platform. When he'd finally reached the edge of the stage, he couldn't help but just observe her for a moment. She was fully absorbed in the moment and there was something utterly beautiful about that. The random guy's hands completely shattered that image for Nate, though, and he shook himself out of his daze.
She saw him almost immediately when he stepped forward, and her face lit up. The smile lit up her face, making her blue eyes sparkle and dimples dance. She whirled out of her guy's arms on her sky-high heels, silver slinky dress spinning around her legs.
"Nathaniel!" she cried, laughing and holding out her hands. "Come dance with me!"
He almost smiled back, an automatic response, but that urge went away when the man's arm slung itself across her tiny waist. He was holding her tightly, cinching the silver dress up, but Amber was oblivious. That was her – oblivious and beautiful, like she was living in a different world to everyone else.
"Who is this guy?" the man shouted over the music, eyes narrowed jealously at Nate. He wanted to grab Amber, chuck her over his shoulder and march out, but this was hardly the appropriate time for that.
"Oh!" Amber cried, giggling as if suddenly remembering he was there. "Nate, this is Simon, he said I'm beautiful!"
"It's actually Steve," the man muttered, but Nate ignored him. He held up his arms instead.
"Come on, Amber, it's time to go home."
Amber pouted but then obediently jumped off the platform and into Nate's arms. Nate was used to this, fortunately, and caught her easily. She weighed as much as a twig, anyway. She was still giggling as she wrapped her arms and legs around Nate, uncaring that it hiked her dress up.
"Take me away, Romeo!" she cried as Nate awkwardly navigated his way out of the club, while trying to cover her bare legs at the same time. They were drawing enough stares as it was. Luckily, her head was buried into his neck, so she wasn't recognised by many people. He nodded to the familiar bouncer as he emerged into the street, who gave him an amused look.
"Nate," Amber said, drawing pictures on his back with one dainty, glittery fingernail. "Natey-Nate-Nate. Natty. Ratty. Ratty-bo-batty."
Nate chuckled. "I think we'd better get you something to eat before you go to bed."
Amber bounced in his arms, making Nate grunt as she shifted around. The tips of her stilettos dug into his back.
"Yay! I want a hamburger," she said reverently. "Or a hot dog! Gimme somethin' fatty, pronto, Natty!"
She was drunk. Full-fledged, tottering-instead-of-walking, drunk. But he had expected that – she'd called him a while ago, sobbing, and he'd only been able to understand the name of the club. He'd flown out of bed anyway, barely even dressed. These calls may come fairly often, but that didn't mean his heart didn't take up residence in his throat until he saw her, whole and (relatively) healthy.
Amber began humming and tapping out a beat on his back. This was what Amber was like when she was drunk – mood changing like the wind, going from hyperactive to depressed in seconds.
Like right now, she had quietened down and began trailing her lips up and down his neck.
Nate's eyes widened as her lips reached his ear and she whispered, "Do you want me?"
He stopped abruptly and dropped her. She yelped as she slid, but Nate caught her arms before she toppled over onto her bottom. He placed her back onto her unsteady heels. Horrible contraptions, but Amber was used to stalking down a catwalk in them under high pressure. He had no idea how she did it.
"What was that for?" Amber said, playfully pouting. Her bright red, signature lipstick had faded and smudged on the side of her mouth a bit. It made the side of his mouth quirk a little, seeing her ruffled.
"Food," was all he said, waving his hand brusquely at the dingy shop they were stopped next to. It was one of the only places open at this hour, filled with the grease and fat that Amber was craving. The smell wafted into the street as the lights advertising the burgers and chips flickered on and off.
Amber's eyes widened and she smiled, earlier behaviour forgotten as she tottered into the place and ordered a large burger and fries. Nate sighed, pushing his hand through his hair before following her in.
Amber vacuumed up the food. It had always fascinated Nate how much and how fast she could eat when she put her mind to it. Usually, he saw her taking small, slow bites of a salad or some other low-calorie meal. Even though she was a model, she did eat horribly on occasion, but usually killed herself in the gym the next day working it off. And Nate didn't even want to think about the liquid diets she went on before some of her more showy runways. It made him feel bad about the huge steaks and beef roasts he loved to eat – only for a moment, though.
Nate didn't get anything himself, but helped himself to her chips occasionally.
Finally, she'd finished inhaling the food and burped, before leaning back and patting her flat belly, eyes half-mast. She looked unbelievably satisfied, with her food and with life in general.
"Done," she proclaimed, smiling proudly and drunkenly. Nate couldn't help but chuckle softly to himself. This uncouth side of Amber was one that the world didn't ever see and he treasured it in a way. It reminded him of times before all this – the drinking, the partying, the random men.
"Alright, time for bed," he said, helping her up. He didn't carry her this time but still kept an arm around her, since she couldn't walk in a straight line. She waved and smiled at the shop-keeper, who looked more than a little bit awe-struck. He didn't whip out a phone and take any pictures though, thankfully.
Amber made it to Victory Square, feet weaving, before she began to groan woefully.
"I don' feel so good," she mumbled, barely picking up her feet. The tips of her stilettos kept bumping together, making every step a stumble.
"Shit," Nate swore lowly as he recognised all the signs. He looked frantically around for a bin, but they were in the middle of a courtyard with only a large fountain in the middle of it. Pretty to look at, but not very helpful at a time like this.
Amber thought differently, though.
In a burst of speed, she rushed out from under his arm and towards the fountain, amazingly steady. Nate's eyes widened as he realised what was happening and he called out, but it was too late. Amber fell to her knees beside the fountain and heaved, throwing up in the fountain.
"Aw, no…" Nate groaned, following behind her slowly. He squatted down next to her, pointedly not looking at the food chunks spreading through the water, and held her long, blonde hair out of her face. Tears were running down her face by the time she was done and she lay her head on the fountain's edge, staring at the water glumly.
"Gross," she mumbled, slurring badly. "But I feel so much better."
This surprised a laugh out of Nate. He let her rest there for a moment longer until it looked like she was about to fall asleep.
"Alright, let's try again."
This time he did carry Amber, as she could barely stand. She was miserable and drunk, now – not very conducive to getting anywhere anytime soon. Eventually though, he laid her down on her huge bed, carefully undoing the tiny straps on her shoes. She stirred when he covered her with the pristine, white blankets, still in her glimmering party dress.
"Nate," she mumbled. "C'mere."
He smiled in amusement but did as she said, moving up to the top of the bed. He leant slightly against the large, intricately carved headboard. She threw her arms around him for the second time that night and gave him a tight hug.
"You're the best," she whispered. "You know, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…"
And he did. The well put-together, glamorous Amber Juliet that the world saw and loved was not the same as the Amber he knew and loved.
"It's just… he called me beautiful… and I—"
"I know," he repeated, stroking her gleaming hair.
"You always do," she sighed. She was silent for a few moments and Nate thought she'd fallen asleep. He was about to draw away when she murmured, "I love you. Do you love me?"
He froze, his breath stuttering to a stop. She didn't—she couldn't—no. She was drunk. She didn't even have a type, she was every kind of drunk, going from affectionate to depressive in moments. She was even-tempered when sober, but bounced crazily around from emotion to emotion when she was drunk.
"Of course I do," he said carefully, thanking god that she was drunk and wouldn't hear the strain in his voice. "You're my best friend," he added quickly.
She drew away, slumping back to the bed. She was frowning at him now, eye makeup barely smeared despite the tears that had been running down her face earlier. She still managed to have that ethereal beauty that had made her so famous. Long blonde hair, pale skin, baby blue eyes – she was like a perfect doll, except with a killer body.
"But I love you," she mumbled, brow furrowing almost like a petulant child.
"I know," he said, and he would've been amused if this wasn't so hard for him. He'd wanted to hear those words for so long, but he had long ago resigned himself to that never happening. She was pouting so adorably and it was late and he was tired and he couldn't help but lean down and brush a soft kiss across her mouth. Her lips felt as heavenly as they looked and thankfully, didn't reek of vomit, thanks to the glasses of water he'd forced down her throat earlier.
She sighed softly when he drew away and he went rigid, but she only stared up at him with dazed eyes. She grabbed his hand when he went to leave, though.
"Stay with me," she breathed. "Please."
Nate hesitated a moment but he already knew he was going to stay. He always did. He promised himself that he'd just wait for her to sleep, for her tight grip to loosen, and then he would leave. But by the time her hand loosened and dropped to the white bed sheets, he was fast asleep next to her.
Nate was scrambling eggs in a frypan when Amber trudged down the stairs, hugging a dressing gown around her lithe figure and looking so much younger with no makeup on. She looked almost childlike, innocent, a complete contrast to the flashy makeup and dress of last night. She didn't look very happy with the world, a complete contrast to her on the stage last night.
"I think I didn't sleep on my pillow last night or something," she groaned, gingerly rubbing her neck. "My neck is killing me." She sat down in one of the kitchen chairs and gave him a wide-eyed, beseeching look. "Massage it for me?"
Nate rolled his eyes and went back to the eggs. "How do you feel this morning?"
"Not overly horrible," Amber said slowly, as if mentally checking over all her vital parts. "Don't really remember much past arriving at the club, actually. I remember bits of you taking me home, though."
She winced as she looked out the window, and Nate followed her gaze to see some children out in the Square playing in the fountain. He couldn't help but laugh as Amber looked queasy. He was also incredibly relieved that she remembered nothing of him kissing her. He hadn't stopped berating himself over that. He hated those men in the clubs that took advantage of Amber when she was drunk, and he'd done the exact same thing. It was worse because he was her best friend.
"I have to be at a photo shoot in an hour," she mumbled, her head lying on her arms. Nate grabbed the pieces of toast and shovelled the scrambled eggs onto them, presenting one to Amber. She picked at it, but eventually ate with more gusto. She finished up way before him and stumbled off upstairs.
He was just finishing clearing up when she came back down, her heels clacking on the hard floor.
"Nate…" she said slowly. The tone of her voice made his spine straighten as he turned around. Amber was standing there, looking like the supermodel she was in her leather tights and fur vest. The expression on her face was worrying, though.
"Ah… you didn't throw up again, right?"
His poor attempt at humour didn't even shift her expression. She was fiddling with one of the rings on her fingers, twisting the gaudy thing around and around. She opened her mouth and it took a second before she spoke.
"Did you… did you kiss me last night?"
Nate froze. No. No, she couldn't remember.
"Oh, uh, yeah…" He never was very good in stressful situations. But he didn't want to lose her as a friend and surely she'd never stay around him again if she knew the truth. "I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean anything by it—"
"You didn't mean it?" she repeated, frowning now.
"Look, it was a long night," he explained in a rush, blood pounding in his ears. "I, I just, didn't even know what I was doing. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to take advantage of you like that—"
"So you didn't mean it."
"No, of course I didn't, we're friends—"
Nate paused in his hurried explanations to frown. "Is there a reason you're repeating everything I say?"
Amber looked lost, her blue eyes wide. She shook her head slowly and then dropped it, still twisting that ring.
"I think I'd better go before I'm late," she murmured. Nate came forward, reaching out to her but she stepped away.
"Amber, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you."
"No, it's fine." She looked up and gave him her paparazzi smile. "I need to get going."
And then she was gone. Nate was left standing in her kitchen, dishwashing brush in hand as he struggled to figure out how he could've handled that better.
Nate slowed the car to a stop outside of the ridiculously fancy mansion. Amber was sitting in the gutter, knees hugged to her chest, in a shimmering dress yet again. She looked so tiny sitting, so vulnerable as she shivered. Nate didn't get out and help her as she stood up, though. He was furious, fingers clenching the steering wheel tightly. As she slid into his car, he noticed that her eye makeup was smudged from tears. This didn't help his anger.
They drove back to Amber's house in silence, Nate's jaw grinding the whole way. When they arrived, neither of them moved to get out. She refused to look at him.
"I can't do this anymore," he said softly. Amber's head flashed up.
"Why would you come here, Amber!" Nate snapped, turning to face her. "Here."
Her mouth opened and closed, eyes shining. Nate knew that house well. Home to one Dante Vasquez, model extraordinaire and Amber's ex-boyfriend. More importantly, he was her drug supplier before Nate had found out and thrust her into rehab. That was over two years ago and he'd thought they were past this.
He'd almost not come when she'd called him, crying once again and sobbing out the address. Furious wasn't a strong enough word.
"I thought we were past this," Nate continued, hissing. "Are you high right now? Are you back with him?"
Tears had begun to run down her face, but Nate was too worked up in a betrayed, jealous rage to care.
"No of course not!" Amber cried. "I made a stupid mistake going there, okay, and I realised that! That's why I called you—"
"Why the hell would you even go there? You know he's a scumbag, Amber, and you promised me you'd stopped seeing him!"
"I know I did but I was so confused and—"
"What the—is this about the kiss last night?" Nate demanded. "Is this some kind of twisted revenge? I told you, I'm sorry, it was stupid and I wasn't thinking but… Dante Vasquez?! What the hell were you thinking!"
"Yeah I get that you weren't!" he cut her off yet again. "But you never do! You go out, get drunk, don't think, and then I have to come and save you! Take some bloody responsibility for yourself, Amber, because you can't keep going on like this!"
"You use alcohol to bury all your stress and everything else but that's not the way to live, Amber! I can't keep picking up after you every time you don't think and end up with some, some asshole all over you!"
"Are you saying that you're leaving?" she said softly, eyes wide and beseeching.
Nate hadn't realised that was where he was going until she said it aloud. He let out a frustrated breath in a whoosh. He couldn't look into her eyes as he said softly, "I can't watch you do this to yourself, Amber. I can't keep picking up the pieces every time you fall. I… I love you too much to let that happen."
The silence in the car felt utterly stifling and he couldn't breath. His chest was too tight, the walls of the car too close. What was he doing? Earlier today he was adamant about never letting her go. He was in love with her, goddammit, what the hell was he doing?
But he couldn't stop.
"You love me…" Amber murmured softly, and he could hear the heartbreak in her voice. "As a friend."
"Not as a friend, Amber," he said, looking up at her pale face. "I don't love you as a friend." She froze completely, breath catching. Nate couldn't tear his eyes away from hers. It felt like his world was crumbling apart. Yet she remained utterly still. He couldn't stand it. "I think you should go."
She sat there for a moment before jolting, undoing her seatbelt clumsily and getting out of the car. Nate kept his eyes firmly fastened forward as he turned the car back on and drove away.
The celebrity gossip magazines may hate him, but they loved Amber Juliet. They pounced upon the fact that he'd disappeared from her life eagerly, with sarcastic headlines like 'where is Amber Juliet's Romeo?' and 'Amber Juliet, lacking a shadow'. They'd always derided him as a hanger-on and desperate, but he hadn't cared.
It had been hard, these past two weeks. Everything in his lonely apartment reminded him of her, from the couch they'd watched movie marathons on to the ugly piggy-bank she'd bought him last Christmas. He had other friends, but he had to admit that his life did revolve around Amber just a little too much. So cutting her out of his life was killing him. He'd thought about it though, long and hard, and logic all pointed to the decision he'd made. He loved her, but how could he stand by while she ran herself into the ground? He'd tried to help her, tried to save her, and for a time it had worked. But it felt like he was the only one who wanted her to be her, not this glamorous party girl that got smashed at every event she went to and buried her problems beneath a good helping of vodka.
That didn't mean he couldn't miss her, though.
He didn't mope around the house, always in bed and in his pyjamas. No, he kept going about his daily routines but it felt lacklustre, the imbedded habit the only thing keeping him going. His other friends were sympathetic, but he knew they were getting annoyed with his poor attitude.
He was in the middle of getting ready for work, straightening up his tie, when he heard a knock on his door. Frowning in confusion, he went and opened the door.
And stopped short.
Amber was standing on the other side.
He almost wanted to slam the door shut again but he was frozen. She looked good, without all the extra sparkles and glamour of makeup and high fashion. He'd allowed himself to check up on the gossip about her, but other than the derogatory remarks about him, there hadn't been much. She hadn't gone out much, apparently. He didn't allow himself to think that it was because of him. That would be going down a pathway too painful for him.
"Ah… what're you doing here?" he managed to get out after an awkwardly long pause. Her fingers were ring-less today, but she still twisted them around nervously. Her blue eyes were troubled and she looked tired.
"You said that kissing me was a mistake," she blurted out. "But then you came out and said you loved me. Like, love loved me. What the hell does that even mean!"
Nate was more than a little shocked when she rose her voice. She was always so even-tempered and fun-loving, barely ever losing her temper.
"No, you wouldn't let me finish last time, so this time you don't get to talk," she hissed. "You lied to me about that kiss! And how dare you walk out on me after dropping that bomb on me! That's not fair, Nathaniel Greenwood!"
"No. I've thought about this a lot and I understand where you're coming from. But you're still a bastard for saying that you loved me, for god's sake, then telling me to get out! That is not okay!"
"What was I supposed to do!" he cried out desperately. "Yes, I'm in love with you, but I'm your best friend!"
"Oh, so it's so inconceivable that I would also be in love with you?"
Nate's world stopped. He stared at her until he could get out, "But as a friend."
Amber groaned and pushed him back into the apartment, slamming the door behind her.
"No, you absolute idiot. You are so stupid. I don't know how I'm in love with someone so stupid!"
Nate could barely move, let alone think.
Amber cut him off by leaping forward and placing a proper kiss right on his lips. He was still grappling with what she had just said, so barely responded as her arms wrapped around him. When reality hit him, he couldn't help but draw back.
"Amber, we can't… this is just…" It was overwhelming. A few moments ago, he was getting ready for another day at work, and now the girl he'd loved and stood by for years felt the same about him. He could barely process it.
"Yes we sure can," Amber murmured, leaning in and kissing him again. He groaned as his arms wrapped around her waist, mouth exploring hers. It was electric and all consuming, everything he'd ever thought of and more.
"What the hell has taken you so long," he murmured when they broke away for air. He rest his forehead against hers, smiling so widely his face hurt.
"I had a few things to think about," she breathed back, a beautiful smile on her face as well. "And I had to convince my agent to cancel all my work for the next year, at least."
This startled Nate so much that he pulled away.
"But… but modelling is your—"
"Nate, I-I'm not well." She paused and took a deep breath. Nate could see how much she was struggling with revealing so much of herself to him. "If I'm going to get better, I can't keep doing what I've been doing. It hasn't worked for the past few years and there was no way I'd even want to try to get better without you. I need you and if I had to choose between my career and you, I'd choose you. You've been with me every step of the way and I couldn't have done any of it—"
"I don't want you choosing between me and your career, Amber," he said, worriedly taking a step back. "I can't have that looming over us and you love modelling—"
"But I'm not choosing, Nate," she urged, stepping forward. "I'm compromising, just taking a year off until I can get my head screwed on straight."
"I don't want you giving up your modelling for me," Nate repeated quietly.
The brilliant smile began spreading across Amber's face again.
"And I'm not. But I can't deal with that right now. I need to get better and… and I was hoping that you'd be with me." Her eyes were wide and beseeching, completely open and vulnerable.
Nate couldn't help but smile, despite how surreal everything felt. His tie was still hanging loosely and messily around his neck. He reached his hand up and gently cupped her cheek.
"I'm your best friend, Amber, why wouldn't I be?"
She frowned at him.
"We're more than best friends now, buddy, and this time, there's going to be no confusion over that fact."
A/N: This is my entry into the ADoR StarCross'd competition! So I had to include a fountain and a Romeo & Juliet reference. Tell me what you guys think