Chapter Ten: Lunch and an Invite

Love is strong word. It's an overly misused word, too. People exchange vows of love in front of God, and then ten months later, end up in a courtroom furtively deciding who gets to keep the house and the car. So, for Vanessa to be in love was just wrong. It was wrong, wrong, wrong, WRONG! The contemplation was bouncing back and forth in Vanessa's head like a tennis match, and no one was really winning.

" Um, Vanessa. Time to order."

Yes, Vanessa forgot she was in a public place.

" Right, I'll have … the Chicken Parmesan."

The waiter took the menu from her, " Good choice, madam, and for the gentleman?"

" I'll have the herb-crusted chicken with the bolognaise sauce," Bryan answered.

" Excellent choice. You're orders will be ready in fifteen minutes."

The waiter slowly drifted into the back of the restaurant and Vanessa wanted to drag him back. At her current state, she didn't think it would be safe to be sitting with Bryan right now. She might just stab him with her knife – it was one way of getting things done.

" So … you've been silent since we left the hospital. Are you okay?" he asked.

" Yeah, I'm fine. Peachy." She smiled, fiddling with her napkin. This was not a good time to be getting nervous.

Bryan's eyes seemed to narrow at Vanessa. " Right … weird much?" he laughed.

" Hey!"

" Okay, now you're back to your normal self. So back to the point to why I dragged you here in the first place."

" Yes, please do tell me why peer editing is so important?"

Bryan took a small sip of water. " It's incredibly important! Especially since we have one week left until it's due."

" It's December already?" Vanessa asked.

" Yes, Ms. Sarcastic, it is." He couldn't help but smile at her when he said that.

Vanessa began twirling the straw in her drink around. " So spill – explain."

He looked at her with a coy grin. " So, I wanted to talk to you about how this whole Romeo and Juliet thing actually worked out. It's actually pretty interesting because you decided the whole different social class idea, but look at this." He passed the papers to her as she glanced through them. " Caitlin and Leonardo are at the end of the line. While at the church, Leonardo has no idea that Caitlin is faking her death and paces around the church like a confused maniac. He's dangling the poison in his hand, waiting for the perfect moment to go back to Caitlin and take his life with hers. He goes and bam, it happens. But unlike in Shakespeare, we get a sneak peak at the afterlife."

" Afterlife?" Vanessa asked, confused.

" They walk away together, hand in hand, and the scene fades. Their families are in shambles. Perfect, right?"

" In some sort of suicidal way, yeah, I suppose," she answered. As she's reading the scene on the script in her hands, she smiles. The way that Bryan had described it in the papers seemed flawless and beautiful. Every detail was just perfect.

Bryan stared at her in amusement. " Are you smiling at the sheer thought of romance?"

She scoffed at the idea and immediately went back to her classic pose. " Why would you even consider that?"

" Because, you smiled. And for once, not at my misfortune."

Vanessa bit her lower lip. " I guess. I mean it's good. You write well." She gave him a sincere smile from underneath her dark red hair playfully covering her lips.

He smirked. " Good to know. Having the approval of Miss Vanessa Lynn is the best thing that could happen to my life. It's a dream come true!" Bryan exclaimed.

" Oh you! Can't you ever stop joking around for a minute?"

He paused, opened his mouth and then closed it. He shook his head. " No, I really can't. It's who I am after all."

" Yeah, I know."

" So, I have a question for you…" Bryan began.

She nodded. " Go on. Don't keep the drama sustained in you," she said in sarcasm.

" That guy from before … was he Jason?" he asked.

Truth be told, Bryan had this question running through his head for a while. After seeing Vanessa in that kind of predicament, he felt the need to ask her. He felt the impulsive need to even… protect her. Jason was from juvenile hall after all. Bryan could only imagine the pent up anger in him. He's seen cases like that with his dad. Guys who get out of the big house can sometimes be violent and Bryan didn't want Vanessa anywhere near that.

Vanessa sighed and stopped fiddling with her drink. She nodded. " Yeah."

" Why?"

" Why what?" she asked.

" Why was he there?"

" Well, isn't it obvious? He was paying me a visit – an unwanted one. He didn't take our break up so easily, especially since I did it after he got me doing community service," she explained.

Bryan stared at her and attempted to lighten up the situation. " Wait, so the infamous Vanessa Lynn was in an orange suit, picking up trash from the side of the road."

She glared at him. " Funny. But no. I got stuck doing hospital work, which, even after my sentence was over, I ended up sticking with. But I mean it's when I realized what an ass he was being to me. The night I got caught, we were drinking beer down Kingston Ave and he wanted to be funny and graffiti the stop sign. So being drunk at the time, I thought it would be funny too. It was a little funny, until I got caught and Jason jumped behind a bush to save his own behind. All he had to say? Well, he said thanks and then tried to make out with me. He was an ass and still is an ass."

Bryan couldn't believe what he was hearing. Vanessa used to drink? She used to hang out with sleaze like Jason? Although sarcastic and witty, he would have never guessed that Vanessa would fall away from perfect grades and good reputation. " But, why did you even hang out with him?"

Vanessa looked at him seriously. " My mom had just passed away and I just moved here. I felt like he could protect me. Maybe he could understand me. And for a while, it seemed like he did. But relationships aren't as easy when you're with someone like him."

" Did he ever hit you?" Bryan asked. It was a common question. Violent boyfriends had the potential to hit and be abusive.

" No. He didn't. But sometimes, I felt like he was going to. You know, when he was drunk. But he never did."

" Vanessa… you… you don't deserve someone like him."

" I know," she forced a smile. " I just don't feel like I deserve anyone."

" What?"

" You know, love. They're for people like… like you, Bryan. But not me. I'll focus on getting my grades back up from that hideous downfall freshman year."

" Everyone deserves love, Vanessa. Even you."

" You're a romantic. You have your head in the clouds. But I mean look at me. I'm not girlfriend material. And I'm just not … I'm not… pretty enough. I can take it. I can take the fact that girls like Cindy Cunningham will have guys all over them, and I won't. I don't care, okay? Life's not fair. I think I realized that when I woke up one morning and my mom wouldn't wake up…" she sighed. " So don't Bryan. Don't try to make me believe something that can't happen."

His mouth felt agitated with emotions. He wanted so desperately to prove her wrong, but he didn't know how. " You're wrong," he said.

" Shut up. I'm always right," she laughed.

Bryan, however, wasn't laughing with her. " No, I'm serious. You can't just shut out love. Hasn't anything that we've done about this Creative Writing project spoke to you?"

" Yeah, actually it did. You have to be suicidal to win," she told him, rolling her eyes.

" Vanessa…"

" Just drop it okay?"

He felt like maybe she was winning, but Bryan couldn't let himself be defeated. There had to be a way to convince her that she's able to believe in herself. " Have you ever been to a party, Vanessa?"

" What?" she asked.

" Answer the question."

" I was at a wedding when I was eight. Why?" she looked into his chocolate eyes, trying to discover what was going on in that brain of his.

He gave her a smirk of confidence. " Come to the banquet. The one on New Year's Eve."

" What?" She felt confused. Bryan was seriously confusing her right now.

" Look. There will be eligible guys there. It's a masquerade themed night. You can dress up and all that stuff. Guys will be all over you. I swear. I can't see why any guy wouldn't be," Bryan explained.

Vanessa frowned. What was Bryan trying to do? " I don't… understand. And besides, I don't dress up. I don't do make-up or anything like that."

" It's not like you need it anyways. You're pretty the way you are," he paused as he caught himself. Yeah, he thought Vanessa was pretty, but he never expected himself to blurt out that little fact. " But you could if you want," he tried to recover himself as quickly as possible. " You'll like it okay? It starts at 8:00 PM until 1:00 AM. You can leave early if you need to," he reassured. " Please? And besides," he sighed. " I would really like a friend there. And if there's any guy being inappropriate to you, tell me, and I'll deal with him."

She laughed. " Um, I don't know."

" Please?"

She thought about it seriously. Okay, if she did go, she'd have a night with Bryan. Of all the things she could come up with, that was her only reason that could compel her to go. Her mind fluttered back to the sketch in his book – the fairytale sketch. She could be in that fairytale with Bryan. Even if it was for a night, and even if Bryan would probably try setting her up with a guy, it'd be a night with him. No one else from school would be there. Just them.

" Fine," she said. " I'll go."

He raised his fist in triumph. " Yes! Who would have known that I could get the almighty Vanessa to come with me to a party? Oh, I'm good."

" You have an ego the size of …"

" A donkey?" he finished for her.

" Something like that…" she said.

" A handsome donkey?" he asked playfully.

" Funny." She rolled her eyes at him.

At that moment, the waiter came back with the entrees and they spent that small afternoon together. It wasn't so much the atmosphere that took hold of them, but it was more of the company they were in. They had chemistry. Though, deny it all the wanted, they loved being together. Perhaps as friends, but perhaps, wishing for more.

They arrived back at the hospital half an hour later. Vanessa didn't realize they were spending all of their time at the restaurant, until she looked at the clock. She nearly screamed when she saw it. Both of them darted out of the restaurant and paid for their food as quickly as possible. Vanessa cursed at how Scarlet coaxed them into walking.

" I'm so sorry I'm late. Time just kind of got away from us…" Vanessa immediately apologized to Janice as the elevator opened.

" It's really my fault. I kept talking and she kept trying to hit me because … well, I was talking," Bryan explained.

Janice let out a hearty laugh. " Oh no, what are you guys talking about? It's fine! Like I said, school comes first." She flashed a wink at Vanessa.

" Oh…" Vanessa said.

" Well, I guess I better be going then. Um, if you can, call me later okay? I'm going to go edit some more of the story when I get home. Deadline's coming," he laughed. " I'll see you."

Vanessa waved to him as he disappeared into the elevator. " Bye," she whispered softly.

" Don't be stranger!" Janice called after him. " Come back and visit!"

" Janice!" Vanessa screamed.

" What? He's a sweet boy. I like him," she defended. " And besides, he's such a darling to you. Don't you want him coming back to visit you?"

She looked at her feet, feeling embarrassed. " Maybe."

" So tell me. How was the date?"

" Date?" Vanessa yelped. " It wasn't a date. We were going over stuff for a project."

" Right… is that what kids use as an excuse nowadays?"

" No really! I swear!"

Janice gave a pout of frustration. " Fine. I can't believe nothing happened. He's too much of a gentleman to make the first move, isn't he? I know his type. Too shy. You gotta do it for him Vanessa! You gotta grab the bull by the horns and-"

" Janice! No. He doesn't want to make the first move – he doesn't like me that way."

" How do you know?"

" Oh I know. He's too interested in this other girl. Cindy. She's so plastic."

Janice looked at her. "As in like, plastic nose?"

" That too," Vanessa laughed. " Where's Scarlet?"

" Inside. It's not like I'd let her go anywhere. Too risky," she said. " But she's so energetic sometimes. It's hard to keep her in the room."

Vanessa let out a giggle. " Yeah, well that's Scarlet for you."

" So, you're going to talk to Scarlet about you and Bryan aren't you?" She sighed heavily. " I know I'm old, but I can totally keep up with you teens. I mean, I was sixteen once myself. I know all the hot guys now. Tom Welling, Chad Michael Murray… I know these things! You can totally talk to me too!" Janice tried to coax Vanessa into spilling more information. All Vanessa did was give Janice a look of fear. " Okay, fine. Go. Talk. I would do the same."

Vanessa smiled. " I'll fill you in next time, okay?"

" Good," Janice said, grinning.

Vanessa walked into Scarlet's room to see her best friend flipping aimlessly through the T.V. Once she saw Vanessa, she yelled in excitement. " Vanessa! You're back! Well, now, you took longer than expected," she laughed. " So how did it go? Was it romantic?"

" Uh, not really … well, no. I couldn't say it was."

" Well, what happened?" she asked, pulling herself up into a sitting position.

" He asked about Jason. Jason was here after all."

" Wait, what? He was here?" Scarlet screeched.

Vanessa nodded in response. " And Bryan kind of… well, he kind of saved me."

Scarlet's eyes widened in excitement. " Like Bryan punched him in the face and swept you off your feet in a princess kind of way?"

Vanessa stared at her. " No. Just kind of well… drove him away."

" Oh… well, that's still sweet. Aw, I can't believe you were the damsel in distress!"

" It was a weak moment of mine. I shouldn't have been that weak around Jason."

" But, Bryan saved you!" she defended. " It may have been a weak moment, but it was like a fairytale weak moment." Scarlet let out a joyful sigh in response. " So sweet!" she squealed.

" I kind of got carried away with everything when I was talking to Bryan though. I started talking about how I didn't believe in love and all that stuff. I should have just kept my mouth shut. I was an idiot!" She wailed.

" Love makes idiots out of people…" Scarlet mused. Vanessa shot her a glare. " Okay, okay. I'm just saying… when you like someone, you do crazy things. Let things slip – if you will."

Vanessa sighed. " And because of that, he invited me to the famous Hamilton New Year's Eve Banquet. And I said… yes. I shouldn't have, but I don't know, I couldn't refuse."

" So you asked you out?" Scarlet asked in enthusiasm.

" No… he wants to prove to me that a guy would be crazy to not want me. So if I went, dressed up and pretty, some guy would come and sweep me off my feet."

Scarlet looked at Vanessa blankly. " What is he? An idiot? How could he want to pair you up with someone? Boys – they'll never learn! They're too dense, you know?"

" Like I said, he can't possibly like me…"

" Or maybe, he's trying to hide his love for you under this … this… plan!" Scarlet screamed. " Yes, that must be it!"

" Or maybe, he's just really interested in Cindy Cunningham and doesn't see me as a potential … forget it."

" Potential what?"

" You know…" Vanessa began, looking nervous. " Girlfriend."

Her friend grinned wildly. " You want to be his girlfriend?"

" No, I mean … no! I just want him to … notice me."

" So then that would be the perfect opportunity for you to get noticed! If you show up to this banquet of his and blow his mind with a beautiful dress on, he'll melt and notice you all at the same time! It's the perfect scenario."

" You've been watching too many dramas, Scarlet. Way too many."

" Well isn't it true? You can blow his mind away. You just have to show up… well, sexy."

The thought rolled in Vanessa's head. She didn't believe that she knew what sexy was. Did she have to actually open up a teen magazine and figure out what to wear? " Look, I don't even own a dress!" Vanessa exclaimed.

" Well, it's about time you got one. You have money saved up, right?"

" Yeah… but…"

" But what? Do you want to make him fall for you? Are you going to even try?"

Vanessa thought about this. She wanted to make Bryan see her in a different light. He even said himself that she had the potential to turn heads, so why not his? " Fine, I'll do it."

" Good." Scarlet paused for a minute. " You do know what a dress looks like right?"

Vanessa looked slightly infuriated. " Scarlet!"

Her friend's energetic laugh filled the room. " I had to say it, Vanessa."

When Bryan got home, he went upstairs to his room without a word to his parents. He was still a little ticked about their earlier conversation about Vanessa. As he collapsed onto his bed, Bryan thought about what Vanessa could possibly be going through. How could Vanessa not believe in love? He thought that every girl believed in love – that it was mandatory. And Jason. Well, it was probably Jason's fault. It was his fault that Vanessa gave up all hope on love. It infuriated Bryan on the inside – the thought of Jason with Vanessa.

Then his mind drifted to the New Year's Eve Banquet. He had invited Vanessa under the hope that she would give some guy at the party a chance, but then it hit him. He didn't want to set up Vanessa with some guy. No guy would probably be good enough for her – she'd probably always deserve more to him.

" But at least I'll get to see her in a dress…" he mused longingly. " Vanessa in a dress." Bryan contemplated this image in his head and with that, his lips curled into a smirk, loving the sight he saw in that head of his.

Author's Note: Okay, so who's ready to kill me? Any takers? Yeah, I guess I kind of deserve that. I am so sorry that I haven't updated in months! I guess I just thought that this story was dead, but when I read it over again, I realized, it couldn't be dead. There's just so much more to write about Bryan and Vanessa that I had originally planned. That, and well, my friend Florissant (penname) told me that it's good to have ego-boosts once in awhile. So, I had mine. :)

I hope you liked this chapter. It's interesting isn't it? I mean Bryan and Vanessa discussing love? Hm. And now that Vanessa has agreed to go to the New Year's Eve Banquet, she'll have to find a dress. And believe me, if you're trying to impress a guy, finding just the right dress is pure madness. That's for the next chapter though.

Please read and review!