A/N: Well would you look at that? An update. I'll be busy editing the stories on here (Shatter Me, Forever and this one) and take about a month or so to update them all. So, be sure you'll be seeing a lot more updates early next year! Anyway, an early Merry Xmas! Hope you're all doing well :) Oh and I'm sorry for any errors, I was trying out a new app on my phone and I'm not very good at it yet. So excuse the mistakes!
"What's wrong with him?" Shotgun asked, leaning against the hand that he had placed on the back of my chair.
I shrugged, hoping that this reaction was enough to stop him from asking questions. I took another bite of the lasagna in front of me and complimented it, asking for the recipe meanwhile. Before I could reach for another serving, Shotgun had pulled the dish away from my grasp, making sure that I would look at him and answer the question. Too bad. I'll just reach for the second dish closest to me.
"Ophelia. Please, answer me. Are you two fighting? Is it Shrimp Jr? What about-"
"Nothing's wrong, Shotgun. Honestly, nothing is." I reassured him.
I shot a small sideway glance at him and noticed that he was focusing his eyes at me in the way that he knew would make me tell him the truth. Out of everyone I knew, Shotgun had always some sort of way of telling what I was thinking of.
"You don't know, do you?" He asked, softening his eyes.
When I shook my head, he walked around the table and took a seat in Theo's now empty chair. Just five minutes ago, Theo had been keeping up the facade that he wanted to be here. Giving compliments like there was no tomorrow and giving forced laughter that had just grated on my nerves before I finally snapped and asked him what his problem was.
"Nothing." He replied, glancing at me quickly and then looking back down to his full plate.
"Theo, stop lying to me." I replied, putting down my fork and letting it clank against the plate.
He finally looked back at me and sighed. Shaking his head, he began to try and tell me something, but it was like he couldn't get the words out of his mouth. He opened and closed his mouth multiple times and calmly placed the napkin he had laid over his lap on the table.
"Ophelia, nothing's wrong, okay? Don't worry about it. It's nothing you should worry about," he waved off.
"Nothing I should worry about? I?"
Theo looked suitably embarrassed at my catching out his little lie. With a pink face, he refused to look at me, "It's...it's just that I, I had-"
Before he could add more, his phone rang. Because it was placed on the wooden table beside him, the vibrations were loud and startled us. He looked at me and waved the phone in his hand as if to ask if he could take the call. I nodded at him and watched him stand and walk out the restaurant phone in hand. I would be lying if I said I didn't watch every movement he made. My brain - or whatever controls breathing - had to manually control my breathing just so I could remember the simple process of converting carbon dioxide to oxygen. When Theo was done, I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding. Okay, now he's going to come back and tell me whatever's going on. Nothing to freak out about.
I smiled at one of the patrons near me and she looked back at me like I grew a second head. Great, so I looked deranged to them. That's fine, as long as Theo- I gasped when I saw his back retreat towards our car parked across the road. He glanced to the right and then left before settling to a jog across the road. When he was safely buckled in, he drove out the car park and down the road. My smile evaporated.
And now, I was sitting facing Shotgun who was staring at me with bright pitiful eyes. Why does he always stare at me like that? I only just realised how many times he'd been giving me that glance. At any mention of my mother, at any time my father was caught up in another heist, or even Jared. At my father's funeral. And now. Was I really that pitiful?
"Shotgun, it isn't that bad. Seriously, he most likely went to get some- some, uh, DVD's. Yeah, because we have a movie night tonight." I lied.
"You don't even believe yourself."
Shotgun struggled to contain the chuckle he had worked up. "Alright, Ophelia, you're speaking the truth, and the truth only. You better be, anyways. I'll slaughter that shrimp the same way your father used to use on his targets. I think it'll do him proud, yeah." His eyes glazed over slightly and he had a rather malicious smile on his face. "Just so you know, I'll be there for you if you need me. Always."
I smiled at him and for a moment, we had almost a father-daughter moment. A second later, a shout from the kitchen came and an embarrassed waiter came to our table and whispered something in the older man's ear. He looked at me apologetically and said that the oven wasn't working, which made his sous chef mad.
"That Freddie's always getting angry over nothing. If he wasn't such a damned good cook, I'll fire that kid." He muttered. "Just be sure to come to me if anything happens, okay? You know I'll always have time for you."
He ruffled my hair slightly in a very fatherly way. I was almost caught up with how similar it was to dad's. "You're the daughter I never had and more." He whispered in a soft voice.
"And you're my second father."
He laughed and threw back his head. I admired him for always showing his emotions as he felt them and not keeping them bottled (unlike someone I know) without caring about what society thought. Shotgun looked back at me and finally excused himself when a head popped out of the swinging double doors of the kitchen and a disembodied hand waved at him frantically.
"Oh yeah, and here's my car keys. Go home and rest, yeah?" He asked before he stepped into the chaotic kitchen. The key flew from his hand to mine, and he winked before the doors closed behind him, muffling his yells at his workers.
With nothing else to do, I decided to heed his advice and got up from my seat. Leaving a two hundred dollar bill under the plate, I left the restaurant alone and headed for the blood red Cadillac that Shotgun had so loved.
I woke up the next day when my hands touched something solid next to me. For a second, I thought that I had some sort of one night stand - despite how unlikely it was. With my eyes open, Theo's sleeping face stared at me. His brown mop of hair had grown out a little past his shoulder and hadn't been cut since he had been busy with his studies. I found that I liked it that way - that scruffy look really worked well for him. A small stubble was felt when I ran my finger along his chin and cheek, stopping at his temple. Slowly, his eyes opened and I found myself staring into emeralds.
"Mornin'," he said, his voice slightly muffled by the pillow. "Mornin'," he said with his hand on my stomach. A slow, tired smile stretched his face when he looked at me.
I wasn't smiling at him like I did every morning. Clearly, that made him worried, because he bombarded me with questions on my health, to which I left unanswered. Maybe he kept up with the tirade of questions for another five minutes or so, but I kept quiet anyway, watching my partner work himself up.
"-fever? Nausea? Ophelia, do you need to puke? 'cause I could quickly go and get a bucket- though I guess if you opened your mouth and told me, the puke would come out. Oh God, Ophelia, wait here, I'll go-" he pushed the blankets away.
He stopped with the fierce battle with the blankets wrapped tightly around his legs. I unwrapped them for him, and sat up on my knees when I was done. He stared at me, waiting for me to continue.
"What..." I trailed off, biting my lip, "what happened yesterday?" I cast worried glances up at him and watched his eyes grow.
"Oh. That's what you're thinking about?" He whispered, scrutinising me as he shifted his gaze from eye to eye.
I didn't bother answering him since there wasn't any reason to, anyway. I heard a small chuckle from him and felt suddenly a mixture of anger and embarrassment. Why would if laugh at me for wondering what he was up to last night with his furtive behaviour? Wouldn't he do the same thing? I glared at him from beneath my eyelashes and he ceased his laughter soon after.
"Sorry, sorry. I was just, just shocked by that hint of jealousy there," he smiled, eyes twinkling maddeningly.
I frowned at him and shook my head, preparing to get out of bed. "Forget it. Talking to you is like talking to a candy floss - you don't expect it to talk back to you."
His hand shot out and gripped my arm. "Hey, hey, sorry. No, lie back down, c'mon..." he gently pushed me back onto the bed so I lay there glaring up at him. I thought that finally he would start making sense and using the right head he was given but I guess I was wrong. A second later, after we regarded each other with steely glances, he grinned. " Why a candy floss, though? Because I'm sweet?" He winked. "This is an odd reverse of roles - lemme soak in this for a while."
I shot up again, only to be anchored down by his hand on my arm. I glared. He held up his hands and did the surrendering sign as he smiled. "Sorry, sorry. Usually I'm the jealous one and you're the one with the ridiculously good-looking guys coming up to you and striking conversations. It's weird to get a taste of how you feel."
"The problem is that you know where I am when I'm talking to these, these 'ridiculously good looking guys'. They're my friends. Most of them are my professors. It's not my fault they're 'good looking'. Deal with it."
He looked ready to defend himself but stopped in time. With deep breaths, he managed to look at me calmly a few seconds later. Wonder who taught him that relaxation technique. God knows he needs it, what with him fainting all around the place.
"I was at the ice cream parlour." He held up a hand to silence me when I was about to cut in. "With Karl."
I stopped myself. Gasping, I sat back on my knees and tilted my head to the side and regarded Theo. He nodded at me slowly, and brushed a hand through those silky strands of brown. "Karl?" I asked, incredulous.
He smiled wryly. "Well, he was practically the only person that treated me like a person and not a murderer after you left. In fact, he was pretty much the only person who didn't yell at me the moment they saw me."
Way to go, Theo. Now I feel guilty. Glancing down at the blanket, I shifted so that I brought my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around it.
"Life was horrible then, I'm not gonna lie. God, like, I couldn't even get one second's peace out there even if I tried." He laughed again. "They all looked at me with those eyes that said you killed her. You killed her with that Ophelia girl and you're worse than her. You know, things like that. Just probably with a lot more cursing. Yeah. And then some people would just go dead silent when I walk past them. And the moment I leave, boom, chatter chatter. Others weren't like that - just instantly raised their voices and openly told their friends what a grade A jerk I am."
I looked at Theo and pulled my gaze back when I realised he was staring at me too.
"For a long time I hated you, Ophelia. I really did. I used to think, God, if I had protested more that day we got that project together - I would have my friends, my life back. I used to think that you were my bad luck charm and, and, I just wished you would die. Or were dying." Tears fell onto my cheeks and I swiped at them quickly, not wanting to let Theo see them. "For so long, every time I saw someone give me that look...I would just... Just wish that I could somehow eliminate you from my life. I thought back to that day when you left me, and I remembered that empty, silent kitchen and I just...I was just a mess. Then, yeah, I got drunk and decided to beat people up and cause fights and all that. One time, ha, one time I got arrested. Me. Arrested.
"I was in prison for about...I don't know, a day? It felt like ages, but it had to be a day. Yeah. It's really horrible there, Ophelia. Hard beds, the sound of dripping water... Enough to drive you mad. Anyways, I sat there for the entire time, thinking. I thought back on my life so far - my childhood till now. I thought about dad, and how his death had affected mum. And then how the silence had made me crave company and popularity. Then I thought about Serah. Yeah, I thought about my memories with her - her laughing, her crying face when I asked her to prom, her...her face on my shoulder when we woke up together for the first time. Happy things. Then I thought about how she died all of a sudden and no one told me anything. I remember Karl and my friends blaming you for her death because people said you were there at the time of her death. Because that was the only thing that they - anyone - had told me, I hated you. I hated you very, very much for taking the girl I loved from me. When you came back from who-knows-where, I made sure you got hell. I made sure everything you sat on was broken so you'd fall, and everything you ate was overly seasoned. And when you didn't respond to anything, I got so angry at you. I thought of ways to make you care and hurt. I wanted to hurt you just so you could feel even the slightest bit like me."
Theo and I were sobbing now. We clutched onto ourselves and let the tears fall freely.
"And then I met you. Talked to you. You looked so scared that day, and I never realised. I thought you were some sorta cold bitch who wouldn't look at me. And then I saw you at the club, all dressed up like some skank and I thought 'oh here's my chance to ruin her life'. But I didn't. Instead, I talked to you and started to wonder why you were working here, why you were so closed off.
"Remember the time when Kylie hit you so bad I had to take you to the hospital? I thought I was gonna die if you did. I was so scared. I didn't know if you were breathing and you just kept bleeding and bleeding and I was gonna go mad. Then you woke up. And I was like, the sun's finally come up. Then, somehow or rather, my little plan of betraying and hence, hurting you after getting to know you went down the drain - because I fell in love with you. I don't know when, but I did. When you laughed at something stupid, it felt like, like, everything's great. And then you said you loved me too, and I was the happiest man on earth.
"That day when you told me about Serah, I... I didn't want to believe you. Here, the two girls I loved were involved in something so...binding. I refused to believe you would hurt her. I refused to believe you were friends, that she told you about something I didn't know. I couldn't see how hurt you were that day, and that's one of my biggest regret. I sat there in the cell that day and I came up with the conclusion that I wasn't mad at you for what you kept from me.
"I was mad at you because you left me. Just like that. And you didn't try to stay and fix things. I realised I still loved you. And loved you so much that...I was angry you had just left like you didn't care. I should've known, Ophelia, I should've. I want so much to know what you've done in the past years. I want to know why you left. Why...why you didn't tell me how much Serah meant to you."
He broke off. Emeralds glistened with tears and his cheeks were yet. He looked at me pleadingly, wanting me to tell him about my life. As much as I didn't want to, I wanted to share a part of myself that no one knew - not even Shotgun - about me. To Theo. I took a deep breath.
"Serah was...more of a sister to me than anything else. I'm sure you know that. Aside from her, uh, relapses, she told me things that she clearly never told anyone else. Things like, you and the future. She talked about you a lot - I probably know you more from her stories than physically. Her mother was unwell, like I said before. She was depressed and also an alcoholic - in no way stable to take care of her daughter. So of course, that left me.
"At school, I was Serah's best friend. I still remember the first words she said to me: 'hi! Are you alright? You seem a little lost.' She said that with the brightest smile on her face. I know all of you treat me like some sort of charity case Serah's taken on. She would make sure I sat next to her at lunch, and made sure I had a partner in all my projects. At school, she was the princess - everyone wanted to be her, everyone wanted her. Serah knew that, and sometimes she let it get to her head. Sometimes, she would gloat about how much more loved she was than me when she woke up the next day - her usual self - and found out that she had hit me the previous night.
"Her mother wanted her daughter gone. Whether or not it was because she wanted Serah to be happy or because Serah was a burden for her, I don't know. Her therapist said the same thing - that death was her only way out. I remember him calling me into his office one time after their session. Serah had set up the basement as his office for when he had house calls. He was an old man, wise and regal-looking, and he looked at me seriously and told me that there wasn't any hope for Serah. After he calmed me down, he left me his card and said I would need it. I think it was then that I started to realise how futile this all was. It was the same routine everyday - go to school, go to Serah's three hours later, try to give her her meds, calm her down and repeat.
"Before I knew it, she was already controlling my life. And she knew it. Once, she caught me looking at a photo of you. She yelled at me, said I was going to steal you from me." I laughed. "I told her, promised her, it would never happen. But it did - look where we are now. After her death, I felt so...purposeless. Before her death, it was simple. I felt solely responsible for her death. I felt like, like I had pushed the knife into her heart myself. I made her a promise to die after she did, and I didn't keep it. So I dreamt, every single night, about her. Sometimes good things - like when we would stay up late and she didn't have an episode and we would talk all night and giggle. And somehow, further along in the dream, it would turn into her face when she had stabbed herself - that look of bliss...like she was so happy and peaceful. I would wake up screaming and dad would rush into my room and hold me for an hour before I calmed down. Because he wouldn't leave until I fell asleep, I managed to fake sleeping until he left. On those occasions when I did fall asleep, I would wake up a little later, screaming. I was guilty of lying to her, and all my dreams had her asking why I lied to her. She would say that I had betrayed her and lied to her. She knew about my crush on you, and she would accuse me about stealing you from her. I wouldn't eat or leave my room, and dad was getting worried. He hired a shrink.
"He was a weird guy - both in looks and in personality. His hair was huge - like he had a very unsuccessful battle with a power socket and lost horribly. He had this look, like he wanted to devour you. Everyday, he told me to tell him what was happening. He would then say that I was lying, that I was making stuff up because I wanted attention. He would say I was crazy. For so long, he told me this. I begged dad not to send me back, but he thought I was just hating therapy. For so long, the doctor told me I was lying that I began to doubt it ever happened. I started to think that it, it was all concocted in my head - that no such person as Serah existed, that I didn't spend the last year taking care of her. Slowly, I started to go insane - between my dreams of Serah and his words. He gave me drugs for all the wrong things - paranoia, dementia... It screwed up my brain. I started imagining things. One time, he gave me this drug and told me it would make me happy. I was...in a terrible place, and when I found even the slightest chance of happiness, I grabbed it. He..." I trailed off.
Silence suddenly encompassed the room and Theo nudged me softly with his toes. I wiped my face and inhaled as much as I could.
"It made...it made my body weak. He used it to his advantage and tried to...um..." I trailed off again, unable to continue.
Theo gasped loudly then. His hands gripped onto my arm and jerked me forward so I fell towards him. Emeralds blazed in anger and he stared down at me.
"He didn't." he whispered hoarsely.
I shook my head. "You're right, he didn't. Close, but not. Luckily, his receptionist walked in on us and she called the police. He was arrested and I didn't hear from him again. Dad switched me to another shrink. But I didn't need it. In the midst of it all, I had had drugs that made me hallucinate. I had dreams and visions like Serah's. For the first time, I realised that this was what Serah had suffered through everyday. These creepy monsters that constantly crawled around the room, these noises like they were yelling at you... I could see why she thought she needed saving - why she fought against these monsters. I figured out that... Just talking to shrinks wasn't going to ever help. After some time, I decided to give them doses of what I knew they wanted to hear. Satisfied, they let me stop the treatment. I went to school. I met you."
I stopped talking then, letting the silence speak the words of our past, of our days together at the naive age of 17. Outside, the sun was hiding behind the hills. It was evening and we had barely done anything else but talk. Theo and I stared at each other, and with no spoken words, we had an entire conversation. At the end of it, we smiled - a slow, happy, free grin. We were rid of it all. Finally. Those demons with the horns that we kept so tightly inside our hearts were killed. We were free. And happy - never forget that. For the first time since I met Serah, I was happy.
Hi! Are you alright? You look a little lost.
I'm alright now, thanks. Better than alright - I'm happy. Finally, I managed to find my way - and damn, am I the happiest person on earth. Except maybe Theo, judging by his goofy smile that hasn't let up. I just knew I had a matching one on my face.