Warnings:Not beta'd. Read at your own peril.
Downward Spiral Rising
I slept little that night, too busy thinking about the implications of my mother and Alec's surprise engagement. It's hard to get your brain to shut off when images of the 'Brady Bunch' flash through your mind whenever you close your eyes. It was horrifying, and by 4:15 in the morning I'd come to the conclusion that I'd rather move to Tibet than to the Hill with Alec and his family.
My mom had only been dating Alec for 8 months and already they wanted to move in together. I didn't think she knew what she was getting into. I winced and covered my head with my pillow at the prospect of becoming the Barton twins' 'beloved' stepsister. Connor was a notorious player and all around ass hole, while Clair didn't even know I existed. Their little brother Kyle seemed nice enough, but he was undoubtedly the son of Satan disguised in a cute little 10 year old's body. All in all this whole 'marriage' idea just wasn't working for me.
My mom didn't even care what it would mean for me. She was too love struck to see the light of day. I decided that the best thing for her was a dose of tough love and vowed to myself that I wouldn't talk to her until she saw reason. She'd come around, and probably thank me for it later. I smiled tiredly to myself at the thought, happy with my decision, and finally drifted off into much needed sleep.
Three hours later my ears were assaulted by the shrill sound of my alarm clock and the jagged noise seeping from my radio that the record companies were currently trying to pass off as music. There's nothing like being subjected to the newest rising pop star's hit single to get a girl out of bed in the morning.
I've never wanted to turn off the radio so badly in my life.
With a groan I rolled over and hit the snooze button, glaring at the insolent machine that dared to disturb my sleep. The glowing green numbers read 7:12 and it briefly occurred to me that this was not a good thing, but for the life of me I couldn't think of why. I had just pulled my comforter over my head, deciding that it didn't really matter anyway, when there was a knock at my door.
"Chloe," my mom's muffled voice filtered in through the other side of the door, "Warren's here."
Warren. Hmmm... I remembered him. He was the tall boy with the chestnut brown hair, quick temper, and gold eyes hidden behind wire framed glasses. What was he doing there?
I shot straight up, gasping in horror. Warren drove me to school in the morning and he was constantly yelling at me because I always overslept. I glanced at the clock again, a colorful stream of curses passing through my lips when I saw the time. I was supposed to be ready two minutes ago and Warren was definitely going to be pissed. He told me the last time I was late (yesterday, actually) in no uncertain terms that if he had to wait for me again I was taking the bus to school.
Hastily I kicked off the comforter that had wound itself around my feet during the night and bounded towards the closet. Unfortunately, my legs were still tangled in the uncooperative sheets and I tripped, hitting the floor with a muffled 'oomph'.
Good thing it was carpeted.
"I'll tell him you'll be down in a few minutes then," my mom said, a flicker of amusement coloring her voice. I didn't bother to respond to that, having already forgotten she was there. With a grunt I pushed myself off the ground, putting on whatever articles of clothing were strewn about my room and dashing to the bathroom to brush my teeth.
Five minutes and two stubbed toes later I was racing down the steps, clinging desperately to the hope that a lifetime of noogies and friendship would keep Warren from following through with his threat and subjecting me to the psychological trauma that's laughingly referred to as 'public transportation'. I was not looking forward to facing him though, and I almost wondered if it would be better to end up taking the bus than to have him yell at me again.
As it turned out I didn't have to worry about suffering the 'Wrath of Warren' at all. He seemed in a pretty good mood, all things considered, when I found him down stairs laughing in the kitchen and munching on a chocolate-chip muffin (let me rephrase, munching on my chocolate-chip muffin). I glared at him as he leaned casually on the counter top and cheerfully continued chatting with my mom about God knows what.
Sure he'd known my mom since before he could remember, our parents were best friends in college and all, but he didn't have to be so chummy with her when she'd just decided to turn my whole life upside down the night before. Warren was my best friend. Fraternizing with the enemy was not allowed, dammit!
"Good morning, Sunshine," he smiled unrepentantly as I entered the room. I scowled, first at him, then at my muffin.
I'm not a chipper person in the mornings, well let's face it, I'm never really a chipper person anyway, but at 7 o'clock in the morning I'm down right bitchy. And not only had I learned horrible news the night before and gotten no sleep, but now my best friend was talking to my mom like he hadn't a care in the world and worse he was eating MY muffin as he did it!
Naturally my first impulse was to sucker punch the boy, but my mom probably would have sucker punched me if I'd tried that, and I bruise easy. So I settled for snatching the muffin from Warren's hand and taking a huge mouthful of it instead.
"Nice, Chloe. Real Nice," he said, looking forlornly at the ruins of his breakfast (my breakfast) as I unceremoniously shoved it back into his hands.
It was stale anyway.
"Morning, sweetie," my mom greeted me, smiling brightly over a cup of coffee. Her eyes sparkled with amusement and she laughed a little as she leaned back in her chair at the kitchen table. God, she looked happy.
Why did she have to look so happy?
"Morning," I mumbled, completely disgusted with myself. I'd spent the whole night staring at my ceiling, thinking of the things I'd say (or in some cases thinking of the things I wouldn't say) to her and the most scathing remark I could come up with when the time finally came was a half-assed 'morning'.
Oh, yeah. That'll show her, Chloe.
"You okay, honey?" Mom asked, her forehead wrinkling slightly with concerned and I couldn't help but feel a little guilty for making her worry about me when she'd been so happy a few seconds ago. I really wanted to beat my head against a wall just then. I mean I couldn't even throw a tantrum properly.
"Fine," I replied more firmly, filling up a travel mug with coffee. "We gotta get going though. We're already late." I said, nodding at Warren. He blinked at me, at a loss for words and I had to admit I was a little surprised myself. It's not everyday that I manage full sentences before my first cup of coffee. I'm usually in Neanderthal mode until I've had my caffeine fix for the morning.
Chloe. Coffee. Good.
Mom was too high up on cloud nine to notice this lapse in my usual behavior, but it was probably all for the best. "Ok, have fun at school, guys," she yelled as I pulled Warren out the front door by the arm.
"You too, Becky!" he called over his shoulder. I just grunted my goodbye as I pulled him towards his black Mustang that sat in our driveway, my mysterious bout of ... wordiness having already disappeared.
Still grumpy and lost in my thoughts, I slung my saddle bag in the front seat and slid in behind it, barely noticing when Warren slammed his door shut and turned the key in the ignition. It wasn't until we were halfway to school that I stopped staring mindlessly out the window and looked around, slightly disoriented.
Warren had been driving me to school since he got his license but when he and Nikki started going out she started coming with us in the mornings too, and I got bumped to the back seat. But today I was in shot gun and Nicole was nowhere to be seen. Not that I minded at all, I just wasn't used to sitting in shotgun in the morning anymore and it felt a little odd to be doing it again.
Where the hell was she, anyway?
"Nyhg, Nikki?" I mumbled, still a little confused.
"She doesn't have first period on Fridays," Warren reminded me, not even having to pause to decipher my various grunts. He was fluent in Chloe by now. I vaguely remembered being surprised about Nikki having first period free last week too so I just jerked my head in what I hoped passed as a nod and took another swig from my travel mug.
Ah, coffee: the sweet nectar of consciousness.
By the time we got to school I was finally starting to wake up. Thank God, because few people are as understanding about my morning 'condition' as Warren is. Anyone else would probably just brand me a first class bitch and ostracize me for the rest of my high school career. And while I'm the first to admit that I'm not a social butterfly or anything, I'm not really hated either. And I like it that way.
Anyway, Warren's locker is right next to mine and that's where Ian and Nikki usually meet us. Nikki wasn't there that morning (and I was still a little bitter about that, actually) but Ian would be and I was anxious to see him. After all, the only good thing about waking up early in the morning is that I get to see him that much sooner. It's sappy, and I'll deny being one of those gushy school girls 'til the day I die, but just seeing him makes me feel better. It gives me a reason to wake up.
God, that sounds so pathetic.
But he was there, like always, leaning casually against my locker, his dirty blond hair gelled into unruly spikes and blue eyes sparkling as he smiled brightly to himself. Still a little grumpy, I wondered how he could possibly be so cheerful in the morning. Usually, Ian was like me, cursing the world for being sadistic enough to wake him up before 1 in the afternoon. That was one of the reasons I liked him, actually. We had a lot in common.
I chewed my lip, drinking in his profile as he watched the stream of students rush past him in the halls. He wore cargo pants that day and a faded black AC/DC tee shirt that showed off his tan arms and pulled across his broad shoulders. Ian's hatred of early mornings was definitely not the only thing I liked about him, I thought wryly to myself as I studied him. His smile widened when he finally spotted us walking down the hallway, and my breath caught in my throat.
"What are you so happy about?" I asked when we reached him, smiling as I playfully shoving him away from my locker. I was much happier now that I was talking to him. Ian's face stretched into an even more dazzling smile.
"Caitlyn Sobre," he said triumphantly, practically jumping up and down where he stood. I felt my heart sink before forcing an indifferent mask onto my face. I should have known, after all. He's been obsessed with her for months now.
"What about her?" I asked, distracting myself with having to open my combination lock. Stupid thing never works properly.
"She and Tucker just broke up," he answered brightly.
"Good to know at least someone's happy about it, then," Warren replied wryly, saving me from having to respond. I opened my locker and switched my books for first period class. History with Spengler. That's just cruel, so early in the morning.
"Hey, Tucker was a jerk anyway," Ian answered, waving his hand dismissively, "The point is she's free now and with Chloe about to become Clair's sister it's practically fate!"
I jerked my head up at his last sentence and stared at him, totally baffled. It sounded like he was speaking English, but the words he put together just didn't make sense. What did I have to do with any of this? Across from me, Warren seemed to be having the same problem.
"What?" he asked, forming the word slowly and clearly so not to confuse Ian anymore than he already was.
"Caitlyn's single!" the blond exclaimed, the dimples on his right cheek showing as he smiled.
"We got that part," I told him, slamming my locker shut a little too harshly. I hated it when Ian talked to me about Caitlyn even though logically I knew I had no right to get so pissed. But I'd been pining after him on and off for three years now, and I couldn't help feel a little territorial about him. "What's that have to do with me and Clair?" I demanded. I was still pretty raw about my mom's engagement announcement and this wasn't helping.
Ian gave me a Look, you know, the one the says 'how dumb can you possibly be?'. Not in the best mood, I returned it. "Ashley Windsor is Drew's girlfriend," he explained, as if it were obvious.
I continued to stare at him. So what if Caitlyn's best friend was Drew Palmer's girlfriend. What the hell did that have to do with me? For that matter, what did that have to do with Ian?
Ian sighed, a little annoyed himself now. "Drew is Darrel's best friend."
"And Darrel is Clair's boyfriend," Warren replied, not impressed in the least, "So what?"
"So, I have connections now! Just when Caitlyn breaks up with Tucker! It's fate!" he insisted, frowning at our lack of enthusiasm.
"So Caitlyn's best friend is the girlfriend of the best friend of the boyfriend of the stepsister of your best friend, and you think that's fate?" Warren asked flatly, skepticism clearly written across his face. I, meanwhile, was still trying to figure out what the hell Ian was talking about. It sounded more like 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon to me than anything.
"Exactly!" Ian nodded.
"So my mom getting married is all some convoluted way to get you and Caitlyn Sobre together?" I asked, a little hurt that he would trivialize something as important as my mom's marriage like that. Ian's face fell.
"Well, no," he stammered, "It's just that... I didn't..." he looked to Warren, distressed by the hurt I couldn't or maybe wouldn't hide on my face. "I'm sorry, Chloe," he said sincerely, wrapping a comforting arm around my shoulder. "I didn't mean it like that, ya know?"
His eyes pleaded with me to understand and I sighed. I knew he didn't mean it like that. Ian was just a romantic and let his mouth run away with him whenever he got excited, just like a little kid. I leaned into his chest and my heart fluttered at the scent of his cologne.
"S'okay" I mumbled, the jealousy in my gut beginning to ebb away. I hated being jealous and petty, but I really couldn't help it sometimes. Ian squeezed my arm and I grinned at him, so he'd know all was forgiven.
The bell sounded, conveniently, just then and before I could protest the weight around my shoulders was gone, and I was surprised by just how much I missed the warmth of his body touching mine.
"Catch you guys at lunch!" Ian waved, picking his backpack of the floor and slinging it around his shoulder before disappearing into the rushing crowd of students as they hurried to their first period classes. I stared after him even after he'd already been lost from view.
"Let's go, Chloe," Warren said softly after a moment, looking at me with sad eyes. He smiled and nudged my arm, "Can't be late for Spanky, can we?" I laughed at the nickname. I kind of liked Mrs. Spengler, but Warren and just about everyone else in school thought she was Hitler reborn. I was one of the few that didn't hate her with the passion of a thousand suns, and Warren largely considered me a traitor for it. She was just boring, not evil.
"God forbid!" I laughed, picking up my bag and walking beside him to our first period history class. One of the things I love most about Warren is how he can always make me feel better, no matter what. It's like a weird paranormal phenomena or something. Not that I'm complaining.
My mood was actually starting to improve, that short walk to Mrs. Spengler's room with Warren mocking our History teacher almost making me forget about Ian and the night before. And I probably would have forgotten completely, for a while at least, if I hadn't accidentally stumbled over my own foot just as I entered the class room, and hit some poor unsuspecting bystander in the head with my book bag in the process.
I'm a klutz and not easily embarrassed, but at that moment I wanted to crawl up in the fetal position and cry, the eyes of my unintentional victim glaring holes into my skull and reminding me all over again why I hadn't slept much the night before.
For the life of me I couldn't imagine how I'd managed to forget Connor Barton was in that class.
Thanks to PhiloNysh for correcting my 'French'; it's fixed it now. Anyone and everyone, feel free to tell me when I've made a glaring (or not so glaring) mistake. I really appreciate it!
Also thanks to: Rockstar-groupie, Samtara, Rinfirithiel, and Shaylee.
You guys rock! I'll read your stories later when I get a chance!