Shades of Fire

Chapter Eighteen: Practice Makes Perfect

I got in trouble with more than one authority figure, but at least I could count them all on one hand. I got in trouble with the pool guard who I wanted to smack in the face for interrupting, the hotel managers who swore to never let me into their hotel ever again, my preparatory school who threatened to hold my diploma hostage, and my parents who flipped out about "breaking and entering" but apparently would have condoned drinking underage, "just not this" – AKA the "breaking and entering".

This was all in one night by the way.

At least Kim, Mike, and Valerie all applauded my efforts for being rebellious for once in my life.

And when Monday came around, the whole school knew about my little escapade in the pool. I mean it's not like I really cared what they thought of me. I was so close to graduating that things like that barely fazed me anymore. But the stares in the lunchroom from underclassmen did get on my nerves. If only I could start a food fight with my peach cobbler that Monday afternoon.

I seriously contemplated nailing my peach cobbler at this sophomore who kept flashing her fake and pretentious eyelashes at me and then kept whispering to her friends next to her. Valerie told me not to because then they really would hold my diploma and that would really suck.

She said stealthily as she took a bite from her salad, "If you are thinking about throwing your dessert at anyone today, Heidi, please manage to not cause a scene. But knowing you, and knowing your tendencies, it's better if you just hold your breath and eat your lunch."

I furrowed my eyebrows. "Why?"

"Because," she began, "with your aim, you'll miss and then one thing will lead to another and its hello summer school and good bye chances of graduating."

Unfortunately, she nailed it.

On a relatively brighter note, earlier that morning, I got some exciting news from Ms. Havenfield about my writing assignments. At first I thought she was going to be the fifth authority figure to scold me but more rather she started with, "I heard about your rendezvous at the Kingsley Hotel."

My eyes widened and then looked down at my feet. "Does every administrator and teacher know about what happened?"

Ms. Havenfield stood up and laughed as she walked over to her filing cabinet. "Mostly. But that's also because this is a fairly tight knit community of professors. And we gossip like we're in high school."

"Joy," I whispered under my breath.

"But I didn't call you here to yell at you about doing what you did. I think you probably got enough of that already. I actually wanted to talk to you about your Writing Seminar work. As you know I've been fumbling through these papers and I needed to pick people to read for the graduation ceremony," she said, sitting back down in her chair. "Unfortunately that's not you, Heidi. I really love your work, but I had to pick some other writers in the class."

So basically, she wanted to personally reject me. Has the world gone wrong? I mean I understand if she wanted to reject my writing, but in person? Isn't that a little too harsh to do, even for a teacher?

"Oh," I said. "Well, that's um, nice to know."

She laughed. "Heidi. I wasn't done. I actually wanted to submit your work into this literary magazine that I'm co-editor for. It's called, 'Perspective' and it's a little something some of my colleagues from Princeton and I started up. But I wanted to talk it through with you first."

I stared at her. "Literary magazine by Princeton alumni? Really?"

She nodded.

"Um, that sounds amazing, but I don't know if my work is really cut out for something like that."

"But it is. We're trying to get this new generation of writers out there and I think your work is definitely interesting and different." She paused. "The only thing is, it needs to be shorter than the project length I assigned you, and personally I thought it would be great if you could pull your work together in a cohesive piece. Just to submit. You know, that binds all of your work for the year. Plus," she added, pulling out a copy of the magazine from her briefcase, which actually looked more like one of those New England Medicine journals. "It pays you."

"So you want me to work on something that compiles everything I've worked on about Dry- I mean, the guy in my writing – so I can submit this into a literary magazine and get paid?" I asked, clearing up all loose ends.

"Yes, but its completely up to you if you want to do it," she answered.

I thought about this seriously for a minute. Submit something, get money off of it, and feel good about yourself after doing that? Wow, it's too good to be true. And that's when it hit me. "Is this like a pity thing?" I asked suddenly.

She hesitated. "What?"

"Like, you know. Cause you feel bad for me? Cause if so, I'm okay. Really."

"No, it's a legitimate offer, Heidi. Really, it is."

"Oh," I said, holding my head down in embarrassment because I just blatantly showed her that I thought she was a manipulative, student-pitying teacher. "Well then, I'd love to take the offer."

Ms. Havenfield smiled at me, which was much different from her previous look of question. "Great. Um, I'll let you know about the deadline for submission and I'll write you out the check once the writing's in." She paused. "And really Heidi, your work is excellent. Without a doubt. And whoever you're writing about, keep writing."

My lips turned sincerely, and I nodded. "Thanks."

"Oh, and keep out of any pools with him," she added, picking up her briefcase and straightening her skirt and blouse.

"I never said-"

"I was 18 once," she reminded me.

Creepy thought. I darted my eyes around. "Right…"

It was always enormously disturbing when someone like a teacher talked to you like she was your best gal pal and reminisce about the times when, long, long ago, she was my age, most probably because even though I hated to think about it, there was a time when she was my age. And the late 90's, which happened to be Ms. Havenfield's case, was not a pretty time.

Luckily, other than my increase in chores and forbidden house phone usages, I was still able to go back and baby-sit Hayden because I told my parents how much it really meant to Linda that I was doing this for her and how much it would help my grades (although no one ever really told them that the last semester of senior year is a bunch of bull). I had a hard time contacting Linda throughout the weekend to let her know that I was coming, but I assumed that it would have been fine with her because after all, when I met her last Wednesday at the diner, she was ranting about Drystan's impulsive reactions and how much he didn't mean anything by it; she added, also, how much she wanted me back.

I just assumed a missing courtesy call would be fine.

Besides, she gave me a spare key to let myself into the front of the apartment building so that I could come inside without having to buzz in with Drystan.

Sometimes I had to wiggle the key inside the lock before I was able to open it, but with a little strength and a kick or two, I was able to pry the door open. From behind me, someone held the door and I could see the shadow of the arm above my head; I wasn't exactly tall, you know. I turned to see Drystan with a cylindrical paint canister in one hand and a bag of paintbrushes in the other that was, of course, dangling next to my head.

Stupid me. I had to ask a very blatant question. "Drystan? What are you doing here?"

"I live here…" he answered, arching an eyebrow at me.

I coughed, holding back my obvious embarrassment. "Well, no duh, I know you live here, you idiot. I'm just saying that you should be inside with Hayden," I exclaimed, recovering myself and adjusting the weight of my backpack on my shoulders.

He choked on some laughter. "I should, if he was home. What are you doing here?"

"What do you mean? I'm here to baby-sit. I know I didn't call ahead or anything, but Linda made it seem like it was okay to come back whenever I wanted to, so I just thought that if her implications to me were to come back, I didn't think it would be a-"

"You ramble. You do know that, right?" Drystan informed me. He adjusted the paint can on his hand, most probably from the weight, and continued, "Linda is out for the day with Hayden because being the bright young boy he is, Hayden was selected after an academic screening to attend a prestigious school that 'nourishes the young and gifted' and incredibly smart. They're out on a final interview."

"Oh…" I said, nodding at his finished explanation. "Well, then, maybe I should be leaving. I feel like an idiot." And not only did I feel like an idiot, but I also felt the tension between us, and I, for one, refused to stand there and have my heart beat itself out of my chest.

It wouldn't look pretty and it certainly didn't feel great.

Looking down at my feet, I tried to make my way past Drystan, but with him being so tall and all, he kind of blocked me – whether it was on purpose or not.

"Why?" he asked.

"Cause I don't have to be here to baby-sit, and you … well, you…." I drifted off. I had to finish this sentence somehow. Again, I don't think I was able to talk to him. Especially after our interesting "rendezvous" in the pool, I knew that my mouth or my impulsive behavior would get me in a whirlwind of trouble. It was best to leave well alone.

Besides, what should I have said? How should I even approach this situation?

By doing what I do best, folks – running.

"I gotta go…" I finished pathetically.

"No you don't," he said knowingly, still holding his hand firmly against the edge of the door. I could feel a hesitation in his voice for a minute. "You know," he began, clearing his throat, "I'm about to paint my apartment, taking some of your advice about how it only needed some paint to make it look relatively livable, and I don't know… maybe you want to help?"

I stared at him, and then back down at the paint. "Um, what about plumbing and furniture…?" I pondered out loud, remembering his remark to my suggestion a couple of months ago.

"That will come after…" he said, nudging my arm a bit. "So are you in?"

I shrugged nonchalantly. "I have nothing better to do anyways."

Which was totally true.

"Right," he whispered, letting the door fall behind him as we both entered the building.

Following him into his apartment wasn't as creepy as getting to the apartment, setting all the stuff down and getting ready to paint. You know, the whole idea of rolling up your sleeves to do a little home renovation isn't exactly what I thought I would ever do with Drystan and to state the obvious, there were about five million sheets of newspaper on the floor because, as Drystan informed me, "it's easier for clean up". Everything just seemed weird. It wasn't necessarily bad, but it just wasn't what I was expecting at all. The last time I was in here was when I was caught in that freak rainstorm and when the shadows from the clouds peered through his window like a broken shade. This time however it was a lot brighter outside and with the way the light was coming through, it made a giant illuminating mark against the opposing wall with the door.

"Where should we start?" he turned to me.

I dropped my bags on the ground. "Where? The sun is pointing to this wall. I think that the people up there," I said pointing to the ceiling, "would want us to start," I walked over to the wall, tapping it with my palm, "here."

"If that's God's will," he laughed, opening up a paint canister and rolling up his sleeves.

It looked like the sole paint canister I saw him holding earlier wasn't the only one he had stored up in this apartment, but rather he had about six or seven of them stacked on top of one another, some half used while others were just empty. As we started to paint on the opposite sides of the same wall, a conversation managed to make its way in between the work.

Did I ever mention how bad I was at talking?

"So how was school?" he asked, making a large white streak down the wall.

"Good." I answered shortly. I contemplated whether or not I should tell him about the writing project, and because it did involve him after all, I submitted to my guilty conscience. I cleared my throat as I continued to paint faster, "Apparently, all that writing I've been doing on you has paid off."

He dipped his brush back into the paint tray next to him. "Really?" He asked, looking at me as he was coming back up to paint, "You're going to read your work during graduation?"

"No," I said, figuring out how to continue. "Actually, my teacher wants me to put this in a literary magazine and I'm getting paid for it."

Yes, paid to write about Drystan. How interesting.

He turned to me, and then cocked his head to the right, somewhat stopping his cohesive brush strokes up and down the wall. "Really? Now, do I get any cut in this business arrangement?" He grinned from ear to ear, knowing that I would catch a glimpse of this self-proclaimed arrogance and flip out on him big time.

And I did.

I never really liked egotistical jerks.

I shook my head, and then replied knowingly and firmly, "Nope, my work, my money."

He coughed. "But you used me."

I shook my head again. "But I wrote it."

"You used me," he reiterated.

"I wrote it."

Our sentences drove home a whole new meaning of firm and flat.

Drystan walked over to me with his paintbrush and began painting casually next to me – in the midst of our argument I might add. I didn't think much of it at the time, and I continued to paint, but just a little slower and a bit more cautiously.

"You know, you should give me some cut in that," he mentioned again, taking his time with those even brush strokes. Then pausing.

"And why should I?" I asked, putting one hand to my hip.

He continued his painting, as if nothing was weird. "Because, I can make you."

I scoffed at his confidence. "Oh really, and how would you possibly-"

He cut me off mid-sentence by taking the paintbrush and painting my left cheek, from eyebrow to jaw line – one white mark. Then, with me frozen in amazement, he continued down my neck and down my left arm. He finished by dabbing the brush onto my nose as I winced.

With his signature lopsided grin, he leaned to level his eyes with me. "I can do that."

I blinked a couple of times because, hell, I wasn't expecting him to do that at all. And then in retaliation, I grabbed my paintbrush and drew one streak across his forehead, and then on either side of his face. In my defense, I did a lot less to him, than he did to me – in retrospect of course. "And I can do that," I retorted triumphantly.

He grabbed both of my arms and pulled me close enough that I could feel his breath on my ear. "You are so dead," he whispered.

Shit, shit, shit.

I made a run for it when I felt his grip loosening, grabbed at the half full paint canister and began flinging paint with my half-dead brush at him. Well, it was the best I could do with such low, er, deadly appliances at my disposal. "I am so armed, Drystan."

Maybe, just maybe, he might believe me.

"Are you scared?" he asked, toying with the paintbrush in his hand, slowly – torturing me with thoughts of death.

I gulped and looked around. "No…" I answered hesitantly.

He chuckled. "Really?"

"Yeah. I guess." I paused. "Okay, maybe a little."

"You should be."

It was like one of those things you see on TV: two opponents, faced against one another, one moves left, the other moves right, and it's a showdown. Unfortunately, I think I was going to lose. One fling of paint led to another fling of paint and soon we were running around his cramped apartment, armed with well, paint.

"You started this!"

"You wanted this!"

"Did not!"

"Did too!"

"Your fault!"

"Ha, as if!"

The next thing I know, I slip on the sheets covering his bed, and with Drystan right behind me, he caught my flying foot in the air and we landed with a thud on the mattress. I was underneath him as he was struggling to keep his weight over me. The paint canisters were on the floor and some of it was seeping into the mattress and I could feel some of it against my skin.

"Um, well, this is familiar…" Drystan whimpered, trying to get balance on his arms and knees.

"Except you have paint on your face," I replied, edging my hand up to meet his forehead.

It still hadn't completely registered to me that he was on top of me and our breathing space was about two inches apart; I was never good with sharing air.

He laughed at my observation. "You too, Juliet," he retorted, grazing his finger against my left jaw line, almost down to my collarbone.

I hesitated for a moment, and then gave into my impulse to be sarcastic. "Ha, very funny."

He stared at me for a moment, leaving his finger at the crook of my neck. "Looks nice, though," he commented, smiling.

Scoffing, I replied, "Please, don't mock me."

His hand fell. "I'm not."

"Yes you were."

"I meant it."

This small argument was mustered when we, for the love of God, finally realized how close we were to each other, how my two-inch breathing room was slowly shrinking as Drystan was hanging on for dear life, trying not to topple on me.

Breathing suddenly didn't feel so important at that moment.

"You so did not mean it…" I managed to whisper, shifting some of my weight under him.

"You don't know what I mean," he said.

"I do too, in fact, I totally know when you-"

He cut me off my pressing his lips against mine, and everything I was waiting for managed to collapse into one moment, amidst our argument; I could feel nothing and want nothing more than that exact moment because suddenly everything came into alignment - my feelings, this argument, my heartbeat against his – everything. The warmth from his lips and the tension between us became this throbbing moment of quenched desire and I gave in to it.

It felt, to say the least, amazing.

I felt my hand that was once raised to his forehead snake around his neck, pulling him closer, if that was even possible. I don't know how much time went by before he pulled away.

"You ramble," he whispered.

"I know," I affirmed, hesitantly. "I-I tend to ramble under nervous circumstances that require me to think of something to say in order to speed up the time that we conveniently have between us, and I think that if I didn't talk-"

Again, he swooped in for another kiss to shut me up I guess, but my mind was now clouded with questions rather than pure and simple pleasure. I began to overanalyze my situation underneath him, and my heart began pounding faster and faster and my eyes shot open.

Drystan Iverson was kissing me.

Drystan. The boy I've been writing about for the past couple of months, practically an entire school year. The boy who's one year older than me and probably way more experienced than I am. The boy who … who … would be crazy if he actually liked me.

You get what I mean, don't you?

My hands were trembling around his neck at this point and I didn't understand how he couldn't be nervous about kissing – kissing me. Or at least not be repulsed by it because I certainly didn't know what the hell I was doing. Perhaps it was just his normal demeanor, but I, on the other hand, was freaking out. And that's saying the least.

He pulled away slowly, "Are you okay?"

"I'm not good at this," I said quickly, my hands retreating from his neck.

"Really? Didn't notice." He paused. "I'm not much good at this either."

"You're not?" I asked.

He smirked. "Am I?"

Yes. Yes – of course he was, dammit. But I certainly wasn't.

"You are," I managed to say. "I'm just so bad at this." I looked up at him. "Especially um, being underneath you doesn't make the situation any less awkward…"

He gave a tight smile and then sat to the side of me as I managed to get up, ripping my arm away from the sticky paint. "I'm sorry," he said.


"I'm sorry for kissing you. Maybe I should have asked?"

Confusion struck me like a ten-pound rock. "Uh, what?"

He sighed. "Do you like torturing me?"

I shook my head. "I don't get it. The kiss was fine. Great. Amazing. In fact it was just-"

"Are you going to ramble again?" He sighed yet again. "It must have been inappropriate, right?"

Inappropriate? Who said anything about inappropriate, dammit! I just well, overanalyze. I mean – okay, you're not supposed to when you kiss someone, in fact if anything all thoughts should just halt and the moment of physical interaction should be great, no strings attached. But God- I'm so bad at everything that has to do with anything.

I think, I ponder; I actually have a conversation going on in my head. God, why do I think?

I sighed. "I just think too much. Maybe I'm just nervous."


"You being you. And me being me. That's why? I… I like you. Plain and simple. And this feeling – well, this feeling makes me just a million times more nervous than taking the SATs or the ACTs or the APs or … um, any other test," I managed to compare. Well, I was a freak after all and only I, surprisingly enough, could compare teenage romantic nervousness to test taking.

Dear God – did I just compare my feelings to Drystan with test taking?

He laughed a little under his breath. "I feel like I'm in elementary school and the girl who throws crayons at me is confessing her love on the playground or something," he answered, scratching his head. I stared at him blankly. "I'm sorry. That wasn't meant for you to feel bad."

"So you don't like me?" I asked. I mean what else was I supposed to think? I tell him that I like him and he compares my confession to a second grader … just like I compared my feelings to taking a standardized test.

Oh great. We're both freaks.

He grabbed my hand firmly, staring at me with those intense ocean eyes. "I like you. A lot."

"Good," I responded quickly. "I mean, I'm glad."

Pursing his lips together and then sighing, Drystan continued, "So then, if you don't mind me saying, if you're nervous around me and this kissing stuff, we don't have to do it."

Say what?

"Um, what?" I asked.

"You know, I don't want you to feel like this is uncomfortable or anything. That'd be the last thing I want you to feel around me," Drystan gestured politely, still grasping my hand firmly in his and I couldn't help but wonder what was he thinking in that head of his.

"Well, no. Um, that's not what I meant…" I began. "I meant that. Well, what I was trying to say is that … I'm nervous, but nonetheless enjoyed the … um, kissing." I nodded, reassuring myself. "And if anything, I just think that maybe… um, I just need some … practice."

"Practice?" Drystan repeated, raising his eyebrows.

I nodded. "Simple practice."

"So then," he began, pulling his hand away from mine carefully, and then touching it to his chin, pondering my well, plan, for a lack of a better term, "in order to practice, this would require us meeting with each other on different occasions…"

"Kind of like a date?" I suggested calmly, my eyes drifting to the ceiling.

"Now, are you asking me out?" Drystan asked, smirking at the corner of his lips.

For whatever reason it was inside of me, I used my hand to grab the edge of his t-shirt, and pull it towards me. I feel like this is what they do in the movies, and I'll probably end up screwing it up, but whatever. I closed my eyes and kissed him. I did say that practice would make perfect. When I pulled away, I answered, "Yes."

His breathing stayed heavy. "I assumed."

With my hand still pulling his collar, I grabbed the paintbrush on the floor that was soaking itself in the puddle of white paint, and with my own level of quiet ingenuity, I dropped the paintbrush down his shirt.

He pulled back and yelped. "Did you just…?"

I nodded. "Yes." I laughed, nearly slapping my knee in the sheer hilarity of it all.

I didn't need to be that intuitive to realize what was going to happen the minute Drystan pried himself off the ground, balancing on his toes. And when nearly tackled me to the ground and held my face with both of his hands, I didn't even flinch. I waited, and watched him lean in and kiss me. And I wasn't even scared. I could even feel the paint from inside of his shirt seeping down, touching highest part of my rib cage and making its way down to my stomach.

Beyond that, all I could feel was his lips gracing mine.

It took a lot of effort to not make some sort of noise. But when I did manage to meekly make some sound of enjoyment, Drystan pulled away a bit with a snicker in his throat, and while he continued to kiss me, I suddenly could feel his hands move from my face and down my sides and I tried to hold myself from laughing. I was, after all, a bit ticklish.

Goddamn, he was good.

And by the end of that day, I was too.

Author's Note: Another chapter is updated, my friends. And yes, yes, yes! It's been what all (or at least most) of you have been waiting for. It's a fluffy, romantic chapter between Drystan and Heidi in which they inevitably kissed – sealing their relationship. Er, at least for now. I do have more drama planned for them, and if I say anymore, I'll give up the next chapter.

But, how'd y'all enjoy it? Was it entertaining? Funny? Enjoyable? Awkward? Weird? You need not answer all of those questions, but please tell me if you liked it. I tried to make it as interesting as possible without dragging the plot. I mean God – they kissed at least three times in this chapter. I don't know how much more they could have done (besides well, having … er, S-E-X). Yes, I spelled out sex. I'm eighteen and yet … so not mature.

I digress – a lot.

Anyways, yes. This chapter is done, the climax has reached its endpoint so there are about 4 more chapters left (more or less). All in all, I had a hard time writing this chapter. I revised it at least five times and I don't even know if it's where it should be. But I like the idea of "practice makes perfect" because really, is anyone good at kissing straight off the bat? God, I hope not; else, I suck. :P Haha – wow, TMI, I know.

Please review and thank you for all your comments from the other chapter!