Things didn't improve much over the next few days and so, to take my mind of things, I did what I usually did in situations of stress, I immersed myself in something I knew I was good at: setting people up. I hadn't done an introduction since Jake and Holly a couple of months ago (I had chosen to strike Nicole out of my memory entirely so her introduction to Troy didn't count) only that had turned out to be a complete disaster thanks to Troy.
Determined not to let that happen again, and it probably wouldn't seeing as Troy was no where to be found, I accepted Sophia Haque's request to be introduced to Rhys Evans, a guy in her computing technologies class. Granted that due to my own lack of inspiration these days, the plan wasn't quite as elaborate as some of my previous successes but I was confident that if we could pull it off, it would serve our purposes quite nicely.
Operation: Rhys, as I had so cleverly named it, was relatively simple. Sophia had one lecture a week in common with Rhys so we figured that that would the most "natural" setting in which for them to meet. The idea was to get Sophia seated next to him during the class by running in late and finding the only available seat next to him then striking up a casual conversation by asking if she could borrow his notes as she had oh-so-coincidentally "forgotten to bring her own". If all went well, she would offer to buy him some coffee to thank him after the lecture and Hayley and I could congratulate ourselves for another job well done.
In order to ensure that that seat was going to be empty though required the expert services of Hayley. After Sophia had made the request, Hayley and I secretly trailed the poor boy for an hour until Hayley memorised exactly what he looked like so that on the big day our plan could be executed with perfection.
Moments before the lecture was due to start on the fateful morning, Hayley was to go into the lecture and locate Rhys. According to Sophia's observations over the course of the year, Rhys usually came to class with a couple of minutes to spare every week and always sat towards the back, at the end of the row, next to the aisle. The plan would see Hayley going into said lecture, and politely asking Rhys to move down a seat following which she would start to unpack her things and settle down only to find that, when the lecturer strolled into the room a moment later, that she was at the wrong class and quickly gathering her things, she would leave.
Meanwhile, Sophia and I would be waiting outside and as soon as Hayley stepped out, Sophia would go in, looking slightly harried but as cute as a button, and finding the closest available seat next to Rhys. After that it was all up to her.
And so, that's where we were: in the girls' bathroom just outside the lecture theatre, hiding out from the other latecomers who could potentially foil our plans. "What do I say to him?" she asked worriedly as she checked her hair for the umpteenth time. I looked at the sophomore beside me and mused at how odd it was that a beautiful girl like her, with gorgeous raven locks and a slim figure, could be lacking in the confidence to approach a guy she liked. I guess even the best of us had our insecurities and needed a boost every so often.
Smiling kindly, I advised, "Just say hi. Then feign disappointment for forgetting to bring your notes. But don't curse because he might not be too open to it so just grumble cutely to yourself instead. If he's a gentleman, he'll offer to share, if not just flash him a nice smile and ask politely. Got it?"
She nodded quickly, taking it all in. "But you can't chicken out on us ok," I continued. "You have to speak to him. Just say hello at the least."
"Oh my god, I'm so nervous," she bit her lower lip.
"Look at me Sophia," I commanded gently. "You are a gorgeous girl. And if he doesn't see that then he can only be blind and stupid and undeserving. But you need to help yourself too. You can do this, okay?"
"Okay," she nodded slowly, a smile spreading along her full lips.
"Good," I said approvingly.
"You're so good at this stuff," she giggled. "Has it ever happened to you?"
I shook my head with a small laugh. "Nope. My friends wouldn't dare try such a thing on me."
"But there is someone special in your life, right?"
My smile hollowed as I thought of his black hair and the way it never stayed in place but always looked so good. I thought about his brown eyes and they way they danced with life when he had a genuine smile on his face. I thought of how right it felt when his arms were around me. And I remembered how he had fled from me that day, not wanting me and ignoring me, leaving me to feel stupid for caring so much when he obviously didn't see me the same way. Hell, I wasn't even good enough to be one of those girls he went out with when he needed a distraction and that only left me feeling like a bigger fool for having sunk to such a low level where I craved any attention from him I could get. I was pathetic. My well-concealed anger charged through my body and I wanted to scream in annoyance but Sophia's presence brought me crashing back to reality where she waited patiently for my answer. "Nope."
"Oh?" she cocked an eyebrow. "Well, I'm sure he's out there somewhere. You just haven't found him yet."
I wanted to tell her that I had found him and that he was a jerk but then didn't want to ruin the poor girl's romantic belief. Luckily though, Hayley burst into the girls' bathroom at that point.
"He's on the second row from the back, to the left," Hayley instructed briskly then added with a warm smile, "Good luck."
"Thank you guys so much!" she gushed as she slid out of the bathroom and into the lecture, just as we'd told her.
It was another mission successfully completed on our part. Another potential couple was born. I should have smiled at the thought but I was suddenly left feeling drained. It didn't help when Hayley gave me a small hug before skipping off to have lunch with Jason.
My mood didn't get much better after that so I decided to skip the rest of my classes that day and just withdraw to the safe confines of our apartment. I was acting out of character and I knew it. A voice in my head was screaming at me to snap out of it but it was just too much effort to do so. Hayley asked me a couple of times if everything was alright and I would just nod numbly even though the truth was that everything was not alright. And to top it all off, I actually missed him. As miserable as I was, I couldn't bring myself to blame him for it, especially when he had a perfectly valid reason for leaving in the first place. I wished I could have been there for him more but if he had really wanted me around, he would have asked.
Somewhere through my consciousness, I heard Terry come over. I could feel them darting worried looks in my direction but I was too busy moping to care. Nothing made sense these days and nothing no longer mattered. I knew I had an essay deadline to meet but it felt completely pointless. I just wanted to do nothing. Even watching mindless TV seemed like a chore so I just sat on that couch and stared at the wall.
I found that if I stared long enough at the same spot on the wall, I would eventually see little pink polka dots that swirled around and merged into each other before disintegrating again. And as long as it kept my mind from thinking about the reality of my life, it seemed like the best activity to indulge in.
They were talking in hushed tones now, though if I concentrated I could probably hear them. But the pink dots were about to merge so I concentrated on those instead.
They were about to dissolve into smaller dots once more when Hayley loudly interrupted me. "Ok, Lyss, this is getting ridiculous! This is so unlike you." Slowly I turned my head to face my friend who was frowning at me in worry before continuing firmly, "We're taking you out. You've got no choice."
"Thanks Hayl, but I think I'll take a rain check on that. I'm really not feeling up to it tonight," I said tiredly.
"Sorry hun, but you can't just sit here forever. You're driving yourself crazy," Terry said, appearing beside her.
"Look, guys–" I tried.
"No, you look Alyssa. We're not taking no for an answer. We've got a table booked at Bella Italia for 7pm. You've still got to eat you know," Hayley pointed out.
"And we don't even have to go for very long; we'll just eat and leave if you want," Terry added.
My stomach gave a betraying rumble at the mention of my favourite restaurant and I had to admit, as pointless as my life seemed at this moment, I wasn't too keen on dying of starvation just yet. Begrudgingly, I agreed causing Hayley and Terry to squeal in delight.
"Well, go get dressed," Hayley prodded a minute later when I still hadn't moved.
"We're only going to Bella Italia," I argued. "They don't have a dress code."
"True, but you're wearing an oversized t-shirt with a picture of a giant light bulb on it. What will people think, Lyss? We'll never get another client," Terry exclaimed dramatically. "We have our careers to think about and I will not have you jeopardising this for all of us just because you're under the weather these days—"
"Alright, alright, I get your drift," I grumbled, getting up. I would have done anything to keep him quiet by that point. Easing into my room, I muttered, "I'll go change."
"Wear something nice," Hayley called after me.
Pausing mid step, I turned back to face my friends. "What ever for?"
"Alyssa, don't argue with me. Just do it."
"Come on, it'll make you feel better. Trust me," Hayley promised as she nudged me into my room and closed the door after me. Alone in my room, I trudged over to my closet and pulled back the wooden door. I was in no mood to dress up but I knew if I didn't make an attempt, no matter how feeble, Hayley would continue to harass me until she was satisfied.
I emerged twenty minutes later having changed into a nicer pair of jeans and a red top while having dabbed some eyeliner and mascara on, just to please Hayley though I had to admit, it did make me feel a little better after having freshened up. Hayley was sufficiently happy with my look and chattered gaily with Terry as we made our way to the restaurant.
Bella Italia was a little Italian restaurant not too far away from where Hayley and I lived. It was owned by a fairly young Italian couple that served great food in a cozy atmosphere. We had been there so many times that the owners actually knew us by name and even knew what we usually ordered. And even though it was a Monday night, the place was bustling when we got there. The headwaiter met us at the door with a wide grin when we entered and promptly led us to our table.
I followed along, not really paying attention as Terry and Hayley exchanged pleasantries with the waiter while letting my gaze roam over the other patrons. There were a lot of couples there that night, I noticed with a sharp pang of loneliness but forced the feeling out of my mind. Now that I was out and about, I was feeling a little stronger and determined not to spend the rest of the night pining after some guy.
I only realized that we'd arrived at our table when I bumped into the back of Terry as he'd stopped moving. Apologizing hurriedly, I sat down and dropped my handbag before I looked up to see we weren't alone on our table. Across from me sat Gabe, his girlfriend Mandy and Troy.
Our eyes met and my heart skipped a beat and at once we both figured out what was going on.
"Hey guys," Terry said cheerily. "I didn't know you were going to be here tonight. What a coincidence!"
I held back a snort. Yeah right! He'd probably orchestrated the whole thing.
"I know," Gabe chimed with equally feigned surprise. "Troy here was just moping around the house all day so Mandy and I thought to take him out to dinner to cheer him up a little."
"This is a great restaurant, isn't it?" Mandy added.
"Oh absolutely. It's Lyss' favourite," Hayley said, unfolding her menu.
Finally, not being able to withstand it anymore, I laughed out loud, garnering strange looks from everyone else. My cheeks warmed with embarrassment and mirth. This was so stupid yet almost adorable on the part of our friends. Within seconds, I heard the throaty chuckle of Troy join me and we both laughed at the silliness of the situation.
"Ooh! The dessert cart," Terry squealed over our laughter, eyeing the cart in question. "I'm gonna go see what's there," he said, excusing himself quickly.
Not a moment later, Mandy too pushed her chair back. "Um, I'm just going to the little girl's room. Come with me Hayley?" she pouted innocently at my friend.
"Sure," Hayley agreed, getting up as well and going before I could protest, leaving just Troy, Gabe and I on the table.
I was about to point out that I knew what was going on when Gabe had an oh-so-conveniently timed phone call. Glancing up at us apologetically, he said, "Sorry guys, you'll have to excuse me. I need to take this call."
Soon he too was gone and I let out another giggle. "I don't believe they're this doing this to me. I invented the art of setting people up, for crying out loud!"
"Don't look now," Troy laughed too, leaning closer to me and pointing discreetly to his left. "They're all standing behind that plant. Could they be any more conspicuous?"
"Probably, knowing them," I shook my head before turning and waving in their direction. All four of them immediately became interested in something else.
"Oh god," Troy groaned and I laughed again.
The laughter died down after a moment and I observed him from my seat. He was still as dashing as always, with his mess of black hair and his enticing brown eyes. He looked a little worse for wear though, as if he had been sleeping properly of late. My heart went out to him and there was so much I wanted to ask him but didn't know where to start. Inhaling deeply to compose myself, my tone grew serious. "Where have you been?"
"I went home for my grandmother's funeral," he replied simply as though I should have known that. I did. It hadn't been what I was trying to get at but I decided to drop that subject for now.
"How was it?" I asked instead.
"Depressing," he said with a wry smile.
"I would have gone with you, you know," I told him. "I was actually worried, for a while there."
His smile grew warm. "I know. But I needed to do this on my own. It gave me some time to think."
"Well, about my life mostly. My grades are slipping a little and I realized that I really needed to get my act together if I wanted to make it to law school after I graduated. My grandmother had given me the idea while I was in high school and she was really supportive when I told her it was what I wanted to do with my life," he told me then started fidgeting with his napkin. "I started thinking about a few other things as well…"
He trailed off and I wanted to press him further but held my tongue. I knew he would tell me if he wanted to and I didn't want to seem nosy and prying. Sure enough, a few moments later following a deep breath, he continued, shooting me a lopsided grin. "You know, about life and all that."
I raised my eyebrow. "Oh?"
"Well, I started thinking about how precious life is, you know? I mean, I'd already lost my dad and then my grandma and it occurred to me that anything could happen tomorrow and I could die never having done all the things I've been meaning to do or worse, something might happen to the people I cared about before I got the chance to tell them how much I cared about them but by then it would be too late."
Unconsciously, I reached out for his hand and squeezed it gently. I didn't want to cut his revelation off by speaking but I wanted him to know that I understood how he felt.
He looked at me closely for a moment, staring into my hazel eyes, as he pretended to think. "Well," he said finally, leaning towards me. "The thing is that I think I should apologize."
"That's a good place to start."
He slowly lowered his lips to mine and kissed me tenderly. It was the most wonderful thing I'd ever experienced. "That's for being an ass and not saying anything earlier but I think I'm falling in love with you."
The confession blew me away. No one had ever said that to me and I had no idea what I was supposed to say in response. It was completely overwhelming but at the same time, I felt a tingle creep up from the base of my spine and engulf my whole body as the thought warmed me. Troy Matthews, who had gone from being the bane of my existence to a friend and then to something more, was telling me that he was falling for me. It was enough to make any girl tremble at the knees and I was glad I was sitting down.
But before I had a chance to think of a decent reply, he kissed me softly again. "That was for not calling you when I knew you'd be worried."
"Hmm." I couldn't help the stupid grin that was spreading across my face.
"And that one," he said, pecking my lower lip, "was for that first stupid pick up line; the one that made you dislike me in the first place."
"So you admit it was a pick up line," I teased.
"What? I was a stupid freshman who was enthralled by a pretty girl," he shrugged.
"Oh really?" I smirked, quirking my eyebrow.
He didn't answer my question, only planted another kiss. "And this one's for that time I laughed at you when you tripped over your silly heels. And…"
"This is going to take a long while, isn't it?" I cut in.
"I sure hope so," Troy replied.
"Oh God, you two, get a room!" we were loudly interrupted as Terry plopped back onto his seat across us, holding a plate. "We leave you here for like five minutes and you're already all over each other. Sheesh!" I felt the blood rush to my cheeks as all the rest of our friends returned and I smiled sheepishly at Hayley when she shot me a knowing grin.
Disregarding them completely, Troy leaned over and whispered in my ear, "What do you say we get out of here and leave them to get on with their dinner?"
"I think that's the best idea I've heard all night," I grinned, getting up. Turning to our friends, I said, "Thank you guys so much, but we're going to go."
And amidst the hoots and whistles of our friends, Troy and I felt the restaurant. I had been through a roller coaster of emotions in just one day but as I looked up into his chocolate brown eyes again, twinkling with mischief as he hailed us a cab, I knew that everything we'd been through together had been worth it. And this was just the beginning.
A/N: ta da!
Wow. That was the first story I've ever completed in my entire life. And although the writing may not have been at a Pulitzer Prize winning standard, it was my first piece and I'm proud of it. I can only hope to grow as a writer from here :D
I just wanted to say the HUGEST thank you to each and every one of my reviewers. You guys were the reason I kept going! I never really thought that I'd actually finish this one way back over the summer when I first dreamt it up. Thank you all so much for your support. In particular, though in no order, I want to thank the following people: you guys have been so faithful to me and I always looked forward to your reviews the most:-
Carla: thanks for being my first faithful reviewer :D all your kind words through your reviews and emails really meant so much to me, especially that time when I was suffering a particularly bad bout of writer's block and you totally inspired me to get off my ass and get back in there. Thank you!
Cbprice25: lol, I still remember your first review :D thank you sooo much for sticking by me and encouraging me to keep going :D
Jiro: Thank you for all your encouragement and support. Your reviews were always the funniest :D thanks!
Quantum: lol, to my toughest and most critical reviewer! I loved your reviews. They totally made me rethink my writing and forced me to look at it from another perspective. But then when you enjoyed it, you also gave the most glowing reviews. I thank you so much for your honesty.
Ledge, Alison Ashley, Maroon, Wabibito and QuOtAtA: Thank you so much for all your kind words :) your reviews always gave me a burst of good energy and your support has really meant a lot to me :D I was so honoured to have you reading my story.
And to ixolite, for being my real Hayley. Love ya loads hun.
And not forgetting everyone else: Jacangurl220, SITA295, atlantica, Fallen Fantasist, dandelion-seed2, TallemeraRane, Alicia, star123, FamousOneLiners, Jazzy Kitty, lilxseeker, darkstar, captain r3tardo, Adnilem, limbo-gal, babixbunny, lilacsforthekill, Amaris Luclin, Crystal109, Valoria Gilden, Bubbles, babe anjwl, grrrL, Finale, Death Princess, Simply-Crazy, k, snowflake, bad company, turtle and to EVERYONE ELSE who's ever read this story!
I love you all :D