Theories of Attraction
"Thanks, Callen," she said absentmindedly to the male who passed her the cup of latte from over the counter.
"No problem," he called, but leaned towards her and said, "Are you headed back to the apartment?"
Nadia Ayers glanced back at him. "Uh, probably not for another hour. Why?"
Callen grinned. "Perfect, I'm off in an hour. Want a ride?"
Nadia returned his grin. "I'll never say no to a free ride."
"You sure?" Callen looked amused, and this time it didn't take her long to realize what she said.
"But not from strangers!" she exclaimed belatedly. As she stalked to an empty table, she groaned as his laughter echoed in her ears, but unlike initial encounters, she didn't feel the need to die from embarrassment. She had a bad tendency to say the wrong things around Callen Artale, who incidentally, found great delight in basking in her unsophisticated moments.
Away from Callen, Nadia considered herself to be level-headed, and if she was around Callen longer than ten minutes, then she was able to be the level-headed, straightforward young woman that she was! …Unfortunately, Callen had the ability to turn her brain to mush. It was a classic case of a starry-eyed crush around a handsome man – jitters, palpitation, perspiration, blah blah blah. Fortunately these symptoms were only temporary (the aforementioned ten minutes were needed to see past whatever haze that seemed to cloud her judgment – she blamed it on evolutionary biology).
Nadia looked up from her laptop. "That was an hour?"
"Theory of relativity."
Nadia made a face and began to pack her belongings. Callen was zipping his bag that he'd placed on the table when he suddenly froze. Gaze riveted to the entrance, he was completely motionless. Naturally, now she had to see what ensnared his attention so absolutely…
Typical – young woman, brunette, slender. Her eyes were beautifully slanted, emphasized by her eyeliner no doubt. Nadia also had to admit that those jeans did wonders for her butt. No. It was probably her butt that did wonders for those jeans.
"I think I'm drooling," Nadia whispered as she stole admiring glances at the stranger. "Look at her butt. It's fantastic!"
"I think you are," Callen said dryly and seized her arm.
"Do you know her?" Nadia asked, noting his hurried movement toward the door. Meanwhile it seemed he couldn't exactly look away from this stranger. "I don't mind waiting."
"No, I don't know her. I mean, I've only ever seen her when she comes for coffee."
Nadia watched him still again and as he nodded to someone over her head with a smile on his face. Probably the beautiful human. Nadia had no doubt that she also noticed Callen – it was difficult not to.
"God, she's gorgeous," he muttered, holding the door open for her.
Nadia smirked. "I bet you've memorized her order."
"A simple green tea latte. Not at all difficult."
Nadia was too busy creating exaggerated faces of love as she mimed what she envisioned the encounter between Callen and Gorgeous Girl. Callen only noticed when he already had the passenger door open for her.
"You're a strange one," he said and slammed the door shut.
"Strange how?" she said with a roll of her eyes. Perturbed, she settled into her seat and checked her phone for messages. No texts. Of course.
"Nothing. How old are you again?"
"Twenty-one. You're twenty-three. Your cousin has told me stories of you talking to your fish. Strange is subjective."
He paused. "That's true," he admitted, and they fell into silence.
Another reason as to why after ten minutes it was quite easy to function normally around him – they had nothing in common. Nadia always had the uncomfortable sensation of clashing with him. Not that it was entirely surprising, just disheartening. Connie Artale – her roommate and his cousin – always had such fascinating, fun stories about Callen. It was a disappointment to realize that they could never really be friends.
It was all too soon when they arrived at their apartment. Callen lived only down the hall from them and Nadia often found him in their living room with his feet propped on the coffee table munching on her apples and grapes. The only times he wasn't there was when he had morning classes, morning shifts, or a girl he brought home.
They were waiting for the elevator when Callen swiveled to her. "Hey." His car keys jingled in his hand. "Uh, I just wanted to say that I'm sorry… for what I said back there. I mean, you're weird, but so is everyone, right? There is no normal—" The elevator doors pinged open and they stepped in. Nadia pressed the number 5. "—no one is even qualified to create the definition for it, anyway, because like you said, it is subjective—"
"It's okay," Nadia cut him off. It was slightly painful to watch him apologize, both because it looked like he really was physically struggling, and the fact that she knew he believed that she was weird. An old wound that hadn't exactly closed yet from her childhood, but then, didn't everyone have childhood scars they carried around? So no big deal, even if she did sting every once in a while.
Callen looked relieved and smiled at her. Nadia automatically smiled back, but it instantly fell when he turned his back as he walked down the hallway.
Even when she told herself it was stupid, she couldn't help but think wistfully about the woman in the coffee shop. She was probably sophisticated.
The first time she met Callen was on a cold and rainy day. It wasn't very glamorous – in fact, she was drenched from head to toe, and naturally her makeup was running, so it bordered more on traumatizing, especially since he completely scared the life out of her. The lights were out in her apartment when she stumbled in at 10 PM after a long day of school and work. The last she heard from Connie was that she was spending time with her family, so she had an empty apartment to herself.
At least that's what she thought.
Anyway, long story short, the electricity was out so Callen had been rummaging blindly through their drawers for signs of a flashlight and Nadia had thought he was a burglar. In a state of panic, she'd grabbed her broom and prepared her phone to call 911. It was only after the police arrived that she'd considerably calmed down and freed Callen from the washroom she'd locked him in.
It wasn't glamorous at all.
Since then she secretly believed that he held a small flame of animosity toward her… not that she blamed him. Even after he'd tried to calm her down and explain who he was – with his evidence of Connie's set of keys – she refused to listen and hustled him toward the bathroom. Granted, if she wasn't in a state of high alert and paranoia she would have noticed he was more exasperatedly amused than threatening. And in retrospect, she recognized that he was humouring her (because what burglar allowed himself to be poked toward a room with no escape by a 5'4 human with a broom stick as a weapon?).
There were apologies spilling from her mouth (and maybe a teensy bit of censorious words about private property), and Callen told her there was no harm done. But that first encounter set the stage for their whole relationship filled with many insert-foot-in-mouth moments and wonderfully awkward silences.
"Heads up," Connie said one afternoon as she entered the living room. She stopped abruptly to peer over the couch where Nadia was lying next to it on the floor. Said girl lifted her head groggily. "Uh, what are you doing?"
"You mean sleeping?"
Nadia made a face at her tone. "Heads up for what?"
"Callen is coming over."
Nadia's head was already sinking back down. "Okay, tell him to steer clear from this area. I'm studying."
"I thought you wanted to avoid him. You always throw a fit whenever he comes out of no where," Connie said conversationally as she leaned against the back of the couch. Nadia could feel her eyes boring into the back of her head.
"Well, now I know he's coming so I can mentally prepare myself. And this is my house, so I'm not going to compromise myself just because his godly presence is going to grace us mere peasants." One second later and Nadia's head popped back up. "That was a joke, by the way, because Callen is just another human being and should not be treated any differently from any other person walking down the street."
"I heard a peasant call for a god?" a voice said from the direction of the doorway.
Nadia groaned loudly as her head plopped back down on the carpet.
"A joke," Nadia said, knowing it was useless. As usual Connie giggled and shot her knowing looks. Fortunately, Callen was oblivious and instead gave his cousin a hug. If he was aware, she knew he wouldn't hesitate to rub it in her face (remember, he delighted in her embarrassment).
"Always a warm welcome, Nadia," Callen said sincerely. "Thank you."
Nadia allowed herself a brief glance to glare. As usual she was dazzled by his strong jawline and deep-set dreamy dark eyes framed by equally perfect eyebrows. Perfect eyebrows, did she really just think that? Nadia suddenly wanted to gag. "You're welcome," she said as nicely as she could.
"Anyway," Connie said loudly. "I was just heading out to buy some groceries. Did you need anything, Nadia?"
Nadia managed to tear her eyes away from Callen's shoulders to look at her roommate. "Wait, you're leaving? You just did groceries yesterday, though." And Callen came for you, Nadia wanted to add. She did not want to be alone with him.
"Oh, right." Connie looked far too innocent to be doing this without reason. Nadia grew suspicious. "I forgot some things. It won't take long!"
"Don't be rude, Connie," Nadia said disapprovingly. Callen was quiet, staring off to the side with a rigid look on his face. He probably felt awkward too, being forced to stay with the roommate he didn't get along with. She felt a sense of camaraderie with him at the moment dealing with his crazy cousin. "Callen came for you. What were you two planning to do anyway?"
Connie glanced at Callen. "Uh… movie marathon, wasn't it? Why don't you start it?"
"That makes no sense to start a movie marathon by yourself if he came here for you," Nadia defended. Nadia noticed Callen often allowed Connie to get away with a lot of things. It must be a family thing, Nadia concluded, because Connie would always put him in positions she knew he'd rather not be in.
"Why not watch it with him, then, if you're so concerned?" Connie shot back.
Nadia glanced at Callen, almost expecting to see his raised eyebrow to share this 'yeah, right' moment, but he was glaring at Connie. Nadia turned to shoot her an equally malevolent look.
"He came here for you!" Nadia exclaimed and stood abruptly from her sitting position on the floor. "Look, let me go put on some pants and I'll go grocery shopping. Callen is either too nice or scared of you to tell you off, so I'm going to say that he wants to spend time with you. But you're always going off with your boyfriend or last minute appointments." Nadia turned to stomp away, but suddenly realized her predicament and she blushed a furious red. "Hey!"
He was gazing at her blankly as if only realizing she were there. "What?"
Her blush receded slightly (only slightly, because Connie was busy laughing silently behind Callen's frame). "I'm in my underwear, so look away as I walk away," she said bluntly.
Callen cleared his throat and tilted his eyes to the ceiling. "It's just underwear, no big deal," he muttered, as if to himself. Rude.
"Normally I would agree with you, because how is underwear any different from a bikini bottom? And I'm perfectly aware that you've seen all that is under this, anyway, so—"
She broke off when she heard a strangled sound.
"You know what I mean!" Nadia practically shouted, trying to keep herself from drowning in embarrassment.
Callen had a look of half grimace and half amusement. "For once I have to disagree with you."
"You've seen a girl's vagina," Nadia said indignantly. You know what they say, if you're going down, might as well go down with what you believe in. And she was pretty sure that he's seen everything underwear hides. Science class, hello.
"I mean I haven't seen what's under yours."
"I was speaking about female bodies in general."
"So you're saying… I've seen all women?"
No! she wanted to shout. But this conversation was already ridiculous without the need for her to argue against an equally ridiculous statement. With a frustrated scowl, she whirled around and stalked to her room. Once again, laughter echoed in her ears (it was Connie, her soon-to-be ex-roommate) but Nadia was furious with herself for allowing the conversation to turn out the way it did. Ugh. Ugh.
When she stepped back into the living room, Callen was perched comfortably on the couch in his usual position with a large textbook on his lap. Nadia was so surprised that she stopped walking, and as she spoke, she tried to keep the displeasure to a minimum. "What are you doing?"
He didn't look away from his text. "Reading," came his eventual reply. "Connie left, by the way."
Nadia threw her hands in the air. "Of course she did."
There was a pause and a rush of words that sounded like, "What was that anyway?"
"What was… what?"
This time he looked at her. "Getting angry at Connie for ditching me," he said, tone even. "It's… interesting." She could tell he wanted to say something else but he didn't.
Nadia stared at him. "It's interesting that I care? I just happen to notice her behaviour… and the way you put up with it. My cousins would throw a fit if I ever treated them that way." Her early ire was already slipping away, only to be replaced by something that felt suspiciously like pity. "You're scared of her, aren't you?"
"I wouldn't say scared—"
"I won't tell her," she said quickly. Prickles of discomfort began to invade her conscience. Hopefully he believed her, but she doubted it. She's heard of the past women he dated, and they've all left unpleasant memories with the Artale members. Callen was attracted to women with sin in their blood, and some (i.e., Connie) said that he purposely chose those with unconscious psychotic tendencies. Personally Nadia thought she was stretching it – Connie was known to erupt into an unstoppable mass of temper once riled, and it was more likely that she didn't get along with these girls.
Anyway in the end, despite his attraction, Callen was apparently wary of most females he came across. When she first heard this she was stunned, but then realized that maybe it wasn't just females who went through this. Having a pretty face was usually seen as beneficial, but Nadia could see it as a burden too. This societally accepted brand of beauty must come with some sort of consequence, but human males who've shared their discomfort was limited in Nadia's world. It was usually the girls who fought off the expectations attached to their aesthetically appealing features (with good reason, Nadia had always believed), so she'd admit her surprise that Callen felt the same way.
Her amazement didn't speak well of her (she'd always seen herself as open-minded and non-judgmental), so she made it her personal mission to subtly understand the world through his perspective. Nadia was always hungry for knowledge, especially about human nature, so it was always interesting to hear what Callen had to say. Unfortunately, the fact that he didn't trust women, added to the rocky start of their relationship; not to mention the prevalent uneasiness that seemed to filter into their presence whenever they were alone together….
It didn't bode well for her. No matter how frequently Nadia tried to connect with him, he seemed resistant. It was a disappointing experience, not only because of her crush, but generally as a person, because who didn't like Nadia Ayers?
Apparently Callen Artale didn't.
"I'm not scared," Callen repeated, bringing Nadia back to the present. "I was just curious about your reaction."
"Oh." Well, she couldn't very well say that she didn't want to be alone with him. There was no plausible reason – what did he expect her to do, let Connie leave him as soon as he arrived? She didn't mean to sound reproachful, but that's how her next words came out. "You deserve better treatment – from Connie. I mean, if you're upfront with girls – I mean people – to begin with then you'd have better relationships."
He stared at her. "Better – what?"
"Relationships," she said wisely. "If you tell Connie that you don't like the way she continually treats your dates together – she treats it like an afterthought, by the way – then she'll stop." Nadia paused meaningfully. "This also applies to other domains in your life like, let's say, potential relationships."
What wonderful advice. Nadia wanted to pat her own back. Callen was quick so she knew that he'd understand her message. At least that's what she hoped. Connie had primed the subject on him just the other day on his dating life. The Artales were close and Connie had been delegated the task on his less-than-promising female companions.
Callen's mystified expression melted into one of growing incredulity. "Are you talking about the people I date?" Instead of anger like she expected, he merely rolled his eyes. "You and Connie are gossiping about me, aren't you?"
Once again, she was caught in a blunder under his observation. "Of course not."
The amusement that frequented his face around her was already making his stupid dreamy eyes dance. "Then why are you so concerned about other domains in my life like potential relationships? I bet she told you about the theatre major I dated in freshmen year of university."
Connie, in fact, went into great detail on how that particular relationship affected Callen, but she wouldn't admit it in the face of his irritating smirk. "No," Nadia lied, "what theatre major?"
Callen chose to remain silent and allow the weight of discomfort always present around them press against her shoulders. It made her body hot with embarrassment… another encounter with Callen Artale up in flames. These conversations never went the way she envisioned. Nadia pictured herself with more subtlety and eloquence that would leave Callen pensive. Instead he was blunter than she gave him credit for – something she should have noticed much earlier in their relationship.
Well this is what happened when she stood up for him. Accusatory questions and no gratitude.
Nadia could only scoff quietly. "Yeah, okay."
Nadia crossed her arms. "What are you even thanking me for anyway?"
"Offering to go grocery shopping."
Nadia looked at him quickly to see him studying the ceiling intently. "Seriously?" Not for telling Connie off, not for her insightful advice, but for her grocery shopping offer? It didn't even make sense. This conversation didn't even make sense! "Okay," she ended up saying.
"You're a terrible liar, by the way."
"I'm better than you," she retorted.
This time when he looked at her he was smirking. As if he knew something painfully obvious but she didn't. It was another uncomfortable sensation she'd always felt around him.
"No, really," he said. She practically felt the weight of his stare lift from her body as he glanced away. "You're not."
Author's Note: Hey all, it's been a while. Found this half finished while I was cleaning out my folders and thought maybe I could give writing another go? My old author's note for this story said this was meant to be lighthearted so hopefully I can stick to that haha. Hope everyone is doing well! Tell me what you've been up to :)