True Or Real
Chapter 2: Meet The Family
My boots hit the tiled floor, leaving a light clicking sound. Braiden would've most likely retired to his room, like he usually does after a mission. I backtracked to the Housing Wing, and found room number 142, Braiden's room. My fist descended onto the steel door, a hollow sound emitting.
"Who is it?" he called.
I heard some shuffling on the other side of the door, and it slid open. Braiden was standing before me, only a towel hanging loosely around his hips. His blonde hair was damp, hanging in clumps around his eyes. Unconsciously, my eyes snaked to his chest, a very tan and toned chest, to be exact. I felt like my heart jump to my throat, and I suddenly forgot why I was here.
"Yes?" He asked, sounding irritated.
I cleared my throat, and my eyes jumped to his. He raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anymore. "Why was it such a big deal I took so long?" I asked, crossing my arms over my chest.
Really, I was breaking protocol by speaking about a mission after it was completed, but I hardly cared. His recent demeanour was more important to me than following the rules. He stepped aside and let me in, another rule broken: Agents must only enter their own housing unit, not others.
His room looked exactly like mine, I realized. The exact replica of mine. He had a double bed, a door that led to a closet, and another to a bathroom. There was hardly anything in it that made it really his. No personal belongings… except for his clothes, I guess. There was a photo laying on his nightstand, but I couldn't see what it was from my position. I sat on the edge of his made bed, Braiden still standing.
He ran a hand through wet hair, a sigh escaping his pink lips. "You could've been killed, simple as that."
"But I wasn't." I pointed out.
He faced me suddenly, his posture screaming for me to understand his thinking. "You don't get it, do you?" He said, slumping his shoulders. "Even if you had waited just a hair longer, just a second longer, you could've been compromised."
"I am aware of that, but what would it really matter? We've been putting our lives on the line for years." I retorted.
He avoided my question, instead he asked one of his own "Why did you wait?"
Why had I waited? I didn't even know the answer myself. What had compelled me to take so long? Maybe Braiden was on to something, maybe I had let something affect me to behave in such a manner. But what? What had changed? I had never been one to wait, I always went on a whim, and listened to my instincts. What had happened to that?
Was it my instincts to wait?
"I don't know." I finally said.
I suddenly turned angry. "I don't know why you're getting all defensive. Why does it matter that I waited a little bit to get the perfect shot? Why does it really matter? Alexi is dead, which is what really counts."
He shook his head. "They could've seen you at that last moment, Heather. Then it would've been all over. That's what really counts. You." he said in a soft voice, letting his words hang.
"I'm just another number on their list. They would've replaced me instantly."
"What about the people that it would have affected? The people you love? You can't be replaced to them."
"True, but I hardly think the Agency cares."
"I care." he stepped forward, bursting my personal bubble. "I care." he repeated.
I sat there speechless, because of his comment and his close proximity, I think I could almost feel his body heat radiating off of his sculpted body. I took a deep breath, urging my speeding heart to calm down. He held my gaze, his chocolate eyes so full of depth and meaning. But what meaning? What was he saying? I mean, I knew he cared for me, we had known each other for years. But what else?
If anything else.
I stood up abruptly, and crossed the room to his door. I hesitated, wondering if I should say something. I racked my brain for something to say, anything, but my mind is blank. I find myself unable to think. Why couldn't I think? It wasn't as if he had said something that powerful. Right?
"Will you be at the banquet tonight?" he asked.
My blood rain cold; the banquet, I had forgotten all about it. Once a month, the agency had a sort of dinner for all of their agents. It allowed us to acquaint with one another, to catch up and gossip. There were always rumours floating about there. I would be expected to hang out with him there, so to speak. Maybe not arrive together, but certainly chat mostly with Braiden, considering we were a team and all.
I suddenly didn't want to go tonight. Not if I had to suffer through this awkwardness we had recently acquired.
But I knew I had to. Even more rumours would pick up if people noticed my absence there. There would be questions "Did they have a fight?" "Is she jealous of someone?" "Maybe she screwed up the mission."
"Yes." I winced at the sound of my voice, it betrayed me even more than my body language. You could easily tell I didn't want to go.
An emotion flashed in his beautiful eyes just then. Was it hurt? Disappointment, even? We had been trained not show even the slightest hint of feelings in our appearances or behaviour on the field, and now he was openly showing them to me. Such a notion could get one killed during even a simple mission.
"I'm sorry." I whispered before I left. My small statement left me thoughtful—had I said it for him, or me?
I practically ran once the door had slid shut behind me. I didn't want him following me, asking questions—questions I couldn't answer. I sprinted through the endless corridors until I found myself before room 158, Nicole's room. Her door slid open quickly before I could even knock. A hand roughly pulled me inside, and I let out a sound of protest.
"What are you-" I asked, but was cut off.
"Shh," she put a finger to her lips, and motioned for me to sit down. This had to be serious. "I've got some news to tell you." She told me, her tone sounding excited.
Looking at the blonde across from me, I could only figure the news was either A. The new Payless shoe store in town had gotten her order for shoes with a lipstick compartment. Or B. She had fallen in love with, yet another boy. And then stalked him around town.
She hurriedly went on. "So I met an… interesting boy today..."
I rolled my eyes, already knowing the story. "Look, I don't want you to set up a guy for me. I'll find my own man, thank you very much."
"Heather! I was not boy shopping for you! Although, I did see a few eligible bachelors..." She trailed off, an amused expression on her face. She waved her hand. "Anyways, that's beside the point. I met a guy today in town, for me, and well, we hit it off! We started talking to one another, and even grabbed a coffee together! He's so sweet, his name is James and he's just wonderful..." Cue dreamy look.
I tried to reel my best friend back into reality. "Earth to Nicole. That's completely forbidden against the Code! In Article-"
"27, section 3, line 2: Agents must not create a 'relationship' with those outside of the Agency. If said agent would like a relationship, his/her other must be within the Agency, and be approved of before anything takes place." She said quoting it word for word. "I know, I know, we had to memorize it, remember? But he's so cute! I even gave him my number and everything!"
I looked up, startled. "You gave him your number?" Now she had taken it too far. It was even more forbidden to hand out any number, they could easily be traced.
"Probably should've have done that, huh?"
"You don't get it, he was so handsome, he had these amazing green eyes..."
"Nicole, listen to me." I took her by the shoulders, meeting her hazel eyes. "You will get in serious trouble if you don't fix this a-sap. You can't keep this together without the Agency finding out. Bad things will happen to you and James if you continue this. It's for your own good."
Her shoulders visibly slumped, her lips turned into a frown. "But-"
"No buts." I said harshly.
"Fine." She grumbled. "Now why were you visiting me? You seemed...frazzled. Yeah, frazzled." I rolled my eyes at the childish word.
But, it was my turn for the shoulders to droop. I had so many questions to ask Nicole and so little time. "Well, Braiden and I went on a mission today. And everything was fine before we left...And now, I just don't even know anymore. He's...all weird or something. Almost protective of me."
Nicole's hazel eyes lit up, she loved hearing about gossip like this. "Describe it more."
"Well, I made a slight mistake in the mission that really could've been life or death." I continued the story more, telling Nicole about our conversation in Braiden's room.
A slow smile grew on her face. "I know what this means. He may or may not feel something for you. This is great, Heather! A step in the right direction!"
"Woah, woah, slow down cowgirl. I don't even know if I like him or not."
The no-nonsense look she gave me caused me to shrivel up in my seat.
"Of course you like him. Just look at you two when you go on a mission. You get all protective over each other, totally romantic."
I had to agree with that logic. "So now what do I do?"
Nicole had another smug look on her face, like she had a million ideas running through her mind just then. "Simple. We make you look sexy."
Exactly two hours later, I sat in front of my small mirror, readjusting my short dress for the fifth time. Nicole had insisted I wear the low cut, sparkly red dress at the banquet. Of course, she ignored my many protests. Wasn't there a crime for wearing a dress with such a low cut?
I groaned and wished I hadn't told Nicole anything about Braiden. Then, I wouldn't be sitting here in misery, about to await a certain doom at the banquet. Looking at myself more closely in the mirror, I saw a teenage girl staring back at me, her brown eyes wide as she obviously looked uncomfortable in her attire. Her long brown hair was up in curls around her face, framing her heart-shaped face to a tee.
I leaned in closer to examine the make-up Nicole had applied. Was that eyeliner?
Oh please no. I pulled away from the mirror, slightly disgusted. But I had to admit, all the eyeshadow and everything she put on me created an effect with my eyes. My lashes were long from the mascara, and when I blinked my eyes, sparkly brown painted eyelids teased back. That was just my make-up rant. Don't even get me started on the ridiculous high heels I was wearing.
I checked the time on my phone, 6:58. It would take me exactly two minutes to reach the dining room, where the festivities were held this evening. Time to get this over with.
I grabbed my purple clutch and with a sigh I left my room. The moment I stepped into the sterile hallway, I knew this night would be...different. I could see other couples slowly drifting towards the dining room, everyone wearing their best clothes. Although I was wearing something similar to them, I couldn't help that I felt out of place. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. It was just a banquet, we had them all the time. But why was I so nervous?
I kept my head held high as my mother had taught me and strode to the dining room. A few people glanced at me as I passed and I gave them a smile. And the dining room was transformed, let me tell you. Instead of the boring tables and lifeless conversations, it was the complete opposite tonight. Decorated tables were everywhere, filled with colourful foods and delicacies. Agents were everywhere, laughing and talking with one another. But as soon as I took a partially timid step into the ballroom, I could swear I felt everyone's gaze on me. I felt like a piece of Swiss cheese by the amount of holes I felt drilled into me by the stares.
All conversations ceased for one second, then resumed as if nothing had happened. It was one of the oddest feelings of my life.
I turned my head, desperately trying to find someone I knew. Where was Nicole?
"Oh darling, you look wonderful!" I swivelled my head to my left where my mother was standing. She was sporting a black cocktail dress with matching pumps. Her auburn hair was up in a tight bun and her smile was just grand.
"Thank you, you look stunning yourself, Mother."
"You're too kind."
It was part of protocol to be kind to each other during banquets, even if you were related to them. I nodded my head absently, trying to find someone a little more my age.
"Trying to find a boy, are we?" My mother teased at me.
Horrified, I dropped my head and met her even gaze. "What? N-No!" I managed to stutter out.
"Oh, sure. I'll be around, come and find me if you wish to talk… about.. anything."
She walked away, with a swish of her skirts. My jaw hung slack, how could she possibly know? I blinked a few times, I seriously needed to regain my confidence back. My posture, my poise demeanour...
I turned around and proceeded to run into someone. I immediately apologized, "I'm so sorry, I wasn't watc-"
"No worries, Heath." my brother Dylan told me. He was three years my senor, and looked like the perfect combination of both our mother and father. He had dark hair which we got from our father, yet had our mother's stormy gray eyes which made even the most fierce freeze in their place.
"You look nice." he offered.
"Thanks, you too."
"Say, have you seen Kayla? I heard she was here..."
I couldn't help the roll of my eyes. It was just like him to be only interested in the ladies here.
I let out a sigh with a short giggle… wait! Me? Giggling? Ugh, what have I become?. "I don't know, I just got here."
"Oh? So you haven't talked to Braiden yet?" He raised an eyebrow. "Have fun."
He tossed me a wink, and I could hear his soft laughter as he walked away from me. What was he implying? Ugh, I hated how he acted like that: knowing something, but never letting you know.
I stormed over to one of the tables and poured me some punch. I downed the red drink in a single gulp, hoping the sugar would make this night end already.
Where was Nicole when I needed her?
I poured some more punch, drinking it slightly slower then the glass before..
I whirled at the sound of my name, still sipping my beverage. I took one glance at the person who said my name and started coughing on my drink. I put a hand to my chest, hating how it had gone down the wrong pipe.
It was Braiden, that much was for sure, but he was wearing a black tuxedo. I had never seen him in one before. The darkness of the tux brought out the deepness of his brown eyes, and you could clearly see his muscles rippling under the fabric. I took another gulp of the drink to cease my coughing.
It only made it worse.
"Are you okay? What's wrong?" He asked, rushing to my side. He put a hand on my back and started to pat lightly, trying to get me to stop coughing. After the spell, I straightened, and tried to appear more composed.
"Thanks," I breathed, my voice a croak.
"Are you okay?" he asked again. "What's the matter?"
Like I'd seriously tell him I had started coughing because I was stunned by his beauty. No way, that's just an ego boost if I ever saw one.
And now I knew what Dylan had meant earlier. Everyone must've noticed how great he looked this evening. And now that I thought about it, it really did seem like most of the ladies were checking him out.
"I'm fine, really. Thanks."
Braiden seemed somewhat reassured and gave me a perfect smile. His chocolate roamed over my body and I instantly stiffened. I felt stark naked with his eyes taking in every inch of me.
"You look beautiful." he said, his eyes twinkling. Funny how eyes can "twinkle"
I blushed and I really hoped he couldn't tell. "Thank you. You look quite handsome yourself."
"So I've heard." He joked, straightening his tie. There's the ego.
I giggled, and instantly stopped. Giggling again? Seriously? What was wrong with me?
He slipped his arm through mine, and led me through the maze of people. Other agents looked at us with our conjoined arms and closeness of our bodies. The rumours were probably blazing by now.
"Let's mingle." he whispered in my ear, his breath was warm against my neck. A tingle went up my spine, and something flipped in my stomach. I kept my cool and nodded, only letting a small smile play my lips.
I felt like a little child being led by his mother. I was so small compared to Braiden's 5'9''. He took us right in the middle of the mass, and stepped before one of our teachers, Mr. Elding.
"Good evening, Mr. Elding." Braiden said smoothly. Almost with such ease I almost believed I could act that way.
Mr. Elding looked up from his plate of food and his eyes sparkled behind his spectacles. "Hello to you both. You should try the éclairs, they're delectable." He gestured to his plate which consisted of only those desserts.
"We will later. How are you?"
"Very well, in fact. How are you two?"
"I'm great." answered Braiden.
They both waited for my reply. "I'm good, thank you." My voice only slightly betraying me.
They both nodded and we chatted about random things. The weather, people, the usual.
After chatting for a few minutes, we moved on.
To my horror, he stopped in front of my parents. They both smiled kindly at Braiden and I. Well, of course they liked the idea of us getting so close. My mother had wanted me to marry him since I was a little duckling, for Pete's sake.
"Mister and Misses Mathews, how are you?"
My father looked impressed. Like very impressed. "Very good, how are you Braiden, my boy?"
His smile was slight as he answered, "Pretty well."
"Good, good. Now listen, there was something I wanted to talk to you about..." My father clapped Braiden on the shoulder and led them away from my mother and I. Turning towards her, I asked, "What is it with him?"
My mother shrugged, sipping on her red wine. "Who knows. I'm married to him and sometimes I can't even tell you."
We both chuckled at that one. My mother's face turned serious, intensifying her age lines. "Now what is it between you and Braiden? There are rumours running around..."
I sighed and shook my head. "If only I knew. He's been acting… weird lately. Protective, maybe."
"Hmm, I see. Perhaps he was just a little off today."
"That's what everyone's been saying."
"Then perhaps they're correct."
Braiden and my father returned a few minutes later, both of them looking...pleased? Why would they be pleased? Oh my, did my father make a bet again on the NFL?
I looked between my father's brown eyes and Braiden's brown ones, trying to decipher them. Both were masked equally well, it was impossible to tell what they were thinking. Before I could ask what had occurred, Braiden swiftly took my elbow and we left my parents.
He stopped moving, in the center of the huge room. We were surrounded by people, most of them focusing on just the two of us. Braiden moved closer to me, closing the gap. There was barely an inch between us.
"What's wrong?" he asked softly, bending his head to whisper it in my ear. His voice was low and seductive, I could feel my heart rattling in my chest.
I shook my head, the motion bringing my mouth closer to his. "I'm fine."
"Are you? Are you really?"
I knew he would be able to see through my lie. His eyes flickered to my mouth, then back up to my eyes.
"Yes, I'm fine, really."
He moved closer, his full lips coming even closer to mine. And then something snapped. I pulled away from him, breaking the spell. Braiden still stood there alone in the center of the room when I left him. The tears stung my eyes as ran blindly through the hallways. I tried to find a safe place where I could just sob. Somewhere safe, where nothing could ever hurt me.
One question was racking my brain: Why was I running?
Thank you my beta, I-am-happy! :)