"Well, some things in this world you just can't change
Some things you can't see until it gets too late
Baby, baby, baby when all your love is gone
who will save me from all I'm up against out in this world?"
-Bright Lights, Matchbox Twenty
Beverly felt even more shy, after kissing Landon. If that was even possible.
Her face was hot, as she grinned bashfully at the ground, unable to control the swarm of butterflies fluttering in the hollow of her chest. She felt so light, so light, like the very blood in her veins vanished only to be replaced with helium and starlight, ready to guide her up up up, into the stars and stratosphere; ready to be swallowed up by the vast, empty blackness of the sky.
She peeked at Landon, and was pleased to see his lips (god, his lips his lips) quirked up in a grin. His hair was mused from where she pulled at it, and, if anything, that made her flush further.
Beverly tore her gaze away from Landon, and tightened her fingers around his. There was something so quietly intimate about holding hands and she liked the way Landon's hand fit around hers.
"So," Landon finally said, breaking the sacred silence that hung over the both of them like a quilt, "where are we going now."
"Are you still up for something?"
"I'm ready when you are."
Her cheeks stretched into a slow smile. Finally she nodded to the poster tube that was still slung over her shoulder. "Let's go put this stencil up somewhere."
He smiled in response, their shoulders bumping as they walked forward. Beverly buried her other hand into her pocket, thankful that she was wearing Landon's jacket as the night turned colder. Their town was eerily quiet; the only sound she could hear was a stray cat wandering the alleys, and lone cars that passed through the empty streets every now and again.
They walked in comfortable silence while Beverly led the way, but, after a few paces, she stopped abruptly at the sound of muffled voices and a familiar, muted laugh.
"Hey," she whispered, grabbing Landon's attention with a tug of her hand, "I think I hear people in that alley..."
"So, I think we should go see― what?"
Her voice turned accusatory when she saw the skeptical look Landon was shooting her.
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"I thought I heard a voice I recognized, Landon."
"And what if you didn't? C'mon, let's go."
But Beverly wasn't even listening to him. Instead, she asked, quite suddenly, "Where are we?"
"Uh...somewhere near― wait! Beverly! Hold on!"
She didn't stop. She knew where she was, and she knew the people that were inside the darkened alleyway.
Shouldering past dumpsters, and garbage that littered the narrow passage, Beverly picked her way through the alley until it opened up. For a moment, she didn't see anything in the darkened light.
It was then that Landon caught up to her, pulling incessantly on the sleeve of her jacket, his voice a low, warning mutter when he urged, "C'mon Beverly. Let's get out of here already."
In the near-silence of the alley Landon's voice was a projected plea. At the sound, the oppressive shadows that hung in the darkest corners broke apart until they revealed a small group of people.
A dark chuckle rang through the air, and a boy with bronzed, brown skin and messy hair, hidden partially underneath a flat brim hat stepped forward. It was obvious from the confident way he held himself, and his arrogant smirk that he was the leader of the group of boys.
"Beverly Banks...it's been a while, huh?"
His cat-like green eyes flashed while his mouth tipped up in a self-assured manner. She would have found his smug expression attractive had she not known him; instead, it just grated on her nerves.
Her mouth was a thin line when she replied. "Not long enough, Shepherd."
His responding laugh was a short bark that had her folding her arms across her chest. She wasn't sure if the action was meant to be intimidating or defensive. Out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed that his posse seemed to take one step closer to him.
"So," Levi started, as he reached into his back pocket for a pack of cigarettes, "what have you been up to?"
She watched as he placed a cigarette between his thin lips, tilted his head, and lit the end of it, while his other hand shielded the flickering flame. Even though it was a motion she was familiar with, she was still fascinated by the process.
At one point in their relationship Beverly had found his actions elegant. For whatever reason, smoking just emphasized his attractiveness. Perhaps, it was the way his eyebrows narrowed in concentration, the way his cheekbones were pronounced when he inhaled, the way his mouth slanted when he exhaled. The smoke had been as seductive as he was as it curled and enveloped her in its ashy scent.
Now, she found it utterly repulsive. The smoke seemed to cling to the winter air, and the scent of cinders choked at the back of her throat.
Her lip curled ever so slightly in disgust before she replied. "The usual. School. Homework―"
"Graffiti?" Levi interrupted casually, plucking the cigarette out of his mouth in one smooth movement. In the dim light, she could see the glint of small, black gages stretching his ears.
Beverly shrugged. "What's it to you?"
If anything, Levi's smirk stretched further at her statement. "Nothing. I just like your recent work."
Before she could say anything, he nodded towards the side wall. Beverly turned in confusion before her heart jumped in her throat, and her mouth dropped open.
She shouldn't have been surprised. She knew where they were, after all. But it still came as a shock when she saw her own art staring back at her. Only...it wasn't.
It was the same graffiti that she had finished when she spoke to Landon for the first time: the painting of a boy in a black jacket being shot with a collection of skittles.
But Levi had added on to her artwork. Now, a bold red and white sign saying "Obey" hung over the dark gun that spewed out colorful candy.
She was struck by how overbearing Levi's new addition was to her whole painting. It was like he was branding her artwork with his own signature. The sign seemed to change the poignant piece into something crude and harsh. The delicate arc of the skittles and bent back of the figure seemed distorted.
For once, her work looked like vandalism.
"What the hell is that?" Landon breathed. Though his voice was subdued, Beverly could detect the thinly-veiled fury that coated his words. His gaping, horrified mouth sharply contrasted with the tightly pulled line of his back and shoulders.
The quiet rage Beverly had spotted back in class, seemed much closer to the surface than she had ever seen, and she was about to move toward him when Levi spoke once more.
Perhaps he was mocking Landon, or perhaps he was really that oblivious, but he said, "Thanks. I'm glad you like it."
Beverly whirled on him, her eyes flashing in warning.
It was deeply insulting to see Levi tack on a recycled phrase to the end of a painting she had slaved away at.
She was so ready to shriek and holler and shout until her throat was dry, but she had known Levi long enough to realize that the best course of action was no action. He seemed to thrive on people reacting angrily to his decisions.
So, instead, she merely commented, "'Obey'? Really, Levi? That guy is a sell-out. I can't believe you're spreading his stuff. I thought you were better than that."
At her words, everything about Levi stood still. His posture straightened out, his eyes locked with hers, and even the smoke emitting from his burning cigarette seemed to pause and wait for his response.
And then he let out a low laugh that had Beverly's spine prickling unpleasantly. "Oh c'mon Bev. I thought you liked him. Didn't you say it was clever the first time you saw it?"
For a moment, Beverly merely considered him. The only reason that Levi liked the pervasive phrase was because he thought he was going against authority whenever he used it. Ironically enough, the word obey had become a symbol of rebellion for him.
Perhaps that was why Beverly liked Landon so much more. Levi was so obsessed with the idea of being a rebel and a vandal while Landon simply just was. He was truthful; he was himself. The most intoxicating thing about him was his lack of pretense.
Shaking rid of her thoughts about Landon, Beverly countered Levi, loftily while avoiding his question. "I thought you hated him ever since he started selling clothes and commercialized his art for a presidential campaign."
The guy to Levi's left folded his hands self-consciously over his sweatshirt that had the image of the Obey Giant on it; for a moment, Beverly felt a sharp thrill of pride.
Until, of course, Levi started going after Landon.
"What the hell are you looking at?" He suddenly snapped, pinning Landon with his glare.
"Levi―" Beverly warned, holding up a placating hand, as if that would diminish his temper.
"What?" He asked, his gaze flicking back to her. His green eyes appeared to glow in the faint light, and everything about him seemed utterly predatory. "Scared your boyfriend won't hold his own against me?"
"Stop it," She whispered furiously, peeking nervously at Landon before wedging herself in between both boys. She could feel Landon's chest graze her back lightly. The image of Landon's taught and heated expression made her heart flip in anxiety. The last thing she wanted was for Landon to get hurt.
Levi talked over her head, as if she hadn't spoken. "Did you know I dated Beverly?"
Beverly gritted her teeth while Landon stiffened behind her. Just ignore him, just ignore him.
She was grateful that he at least remained silent.
"Oh she didn't tell you that?" Levi questioned mockingly. "Yeah, I never thought she'd go for someone like you. I guess she likes that whole 'lost puppy dog' thing you've got going on, huh?"
Behind her, Landon tensed, and exhaled through his nose.
"Levi, cut it out―"
Levi stepped closer to Landon, their gazes heated and locked. "What? Are you mute too? Or do you just prefer letting your girlfriend fight your battles?"
Landon stepped forward, but Beverly quickly elbowed him backwards. "Guys, stop―"
"So how does this work exactly? You just follow her around and...what? Just wait until she feels sorry for you and then you get into her pants?"
"Back off," Landon growled while nudging Beverly aside; she was too shocked to form her own coherent and scathing sentence.
If anything, Landon's words just amused Levi, who broke out into a soft chuckle. "Ah, so the moron does speak. You know, if you wanted to get laid that bad you could have chose someone better than this uptight bitch―"
As Levi's words left his mouth, several things happened at once. Landon moved Beverly aside, pulled back his clenched fist, and smashed it straight into Levi's eye.
Levi stumbled once, twice, before raising his fists to retaliate; Beverly made a move to join the fray but one of Levi's friends, grabbed the back of her letterman jacket, and yanked her down to the asphalt.
Her shoulder bruised against the unforgiving concrete, as she struggled to catch her breath, and for a moment she was immobilized in the darkness. The sounds of snarled words and shouts mingled in the air like some kind of strange and awful invocation.
Her neck protested as she angled her head in the direction of Landon and her heart pounded in apprehension as she watched them counter each other with cruel purpose. Levi's friends tore at the wrestling mess of Landon and Levi, but no one could detangle them.
Blood dribbled in between them (angry and crimson) as they grappled with each other's arms, shoulders and neck. She felt a sick sense of satisfaction, when Landon managed to get the upper hand and hurled another punch at Levi's nose. Everyone was deathly quiet as they watched Levi waver and wobble on unsteady feet, one hand clasped tightly to his nose in an attempt to stem the flow of blood, before he fell forward on to his knees.
Turning his head to the side, he spat blood on to the concrete before snarling, "Asshole."
His hat had tumbled free long ago during the scuffle, and his shaggy locks whipped in the chilly breeze, giving him a threatening look as he glared ferociously at Landon. However, the thing that surprised Beverly the most was Landon's expression.
His eyes were severe as he glared viciously at Levi, and his mouth became an angry slash on his face. His shoulders were hunched in anticipation of another attack, and his shirt was smudged with dirt and blood. Beverly was so used to his gentle composure, that she couldn't match the Landon standing before her with the one she knew.
The muted atmosphere seemed overbearing in it's quietness, which was only punctuated by the sound of their heavy breathing. Beverly felt her heart leap into the back of her throat when she saw Levi stagger to an upright position.
And then the sound of police sirens screeched through the air, piercing the heavy silence that hung over them like a shroud.
In mere seconds, all of them had scattered into the streets.
Beverly could not catch her breath, yet still she ran. Her legs hit the ground at a steady, almost frantic, pace that made her heart thrash in her chest. Landon followed closely behind her, his hand clamped firmly in hers as they darted through back streets and boulevards. Sweat trickled down her spine and her lungs ached for the sweet beat of rest.
And finally, finally she was racing down her street, past her porch, through the side door and into the kitchen of her house, pulling Landon swiftly inside with her. Her breath came out in shallow pants as she struggled to even out her breathing, one hand braced on her chest, as if that would stop her heart from pounding so quickly.
"What am I doing here?" Landon asked softly, his breath catching in his lungs before coming out in halts and pauses. He looked absolutely exhausted.
His hair was sticking up wildly, a mixture of dirt and blood was smeared into parts of his clothing, his cheek was swelling from a punch he took, and his knuckles were bruised and purpling.
"C'mon," Beverly finally urged quietly, tugging at his arm so she wouldn't hurt his knuckles more.
He followed her obediently as they slowly made their way down to the basement where her bedroom was. Even though her parents were just a floor above them, Beverly was not very careful as she rushed Landon down the stairs; she was too concerned about his injuries to be cautious. Fortunately, her parents were heavy sleepers.
"In here," she pointed out softly, opening her bathroom door that was situated across her bedroom. She made him sit on the closed toilet seat, while she rummaged in her drawers for a first aid kit.
Finally unearthing it from the assortment of hairspray cans, bobby pins, and shampoo bottles that littered her drawers, Beverly cleaned Landon's knuckles using a wet washcloth before bandaging his hand carefully.
The silence between them seemed too heavy and too tense as she worried over his bruises. Seeing the plum colored lacerations crisscrossing over his fingers troubled her deeply. It was all her fault.
"Are you okay?" she asked, her voice stark and enormous in the silence that hung suspended between them. She hated how reserved Landon was in that moment.
His deep, brown, heartbreaking eyes raised to meet hers before he whispered a quiet, "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Are you sure?" she pressed worriedly, her hand coming up of its own accord to graze his injured cheek.
He shied away from her touch, and she dropped her hand in disappointment, embarrassment swelling inside of her quick and hot.
Suddenly unsure about what to do with her hands, Beverly turned swiftly away from him, busying herself with the first aid kit's contents, when she heard Landon sigh deeply.
And then she felt his presence behind her, strong and unyielding and utterly him. His hands wrapped around her waist before tugging her into his hard chest, his head dipping down to rest his chin on her shoulder. His breath tickled the shell of her ear pleasantly, and she forced down the fluttering feeling in her stomach. He stayed there for a moment, not saying a single word, before she broke the silence.
"Are you going to go home?" she asked softly, leaning her weight against him. She liked the simple feeling of his body against hers, the smell of his aftershave enveloping her. She liked being in his arms.
There was a lull before he replied, his voice rumbling from deep within him, "Do you want me to go?"
"I don't know," she whispered, closing her eyes briefly, trailing her hands down to rest on top of the ones holding her waist.
But then she saw the contusions that marked his olive skin, and the angry bruises that he bore because of her. Guilt thrummed through her, and she felt her stomach constrict at the memory of the fight. She was selfish. She was so so selfish.
But she wanted to be selfish for just a little while longer.
Turning around to face him, she wrapped her arms around his neck, sinking into the feeling of him.
"You can...do you want to stay here?" she finally asked, locking eyes with his striking brown ones.
There was a beat of silence, before he replied. "Okay."
"Really?" she said in surprise.
His hands moved from around her waist to cup her jaw, and tilt her head down to place a sweet kiss on her forehead. It was so light she barely felt it.
So she guided him to her bedroom, not bothering to turn on the light as she stood with him in the center of her room. Clothes littered the floor in haphazard disarray and she tried not to fidget when he stared at her painted walls. Moonlight filtered through her open window, illuminating one side of Landon's face, and casting shadows on the ground.
He was utterly mesmerizing in the dark light, and her heart thudded against her chest as she watched him watch her. Something unexplainable hung between them that made Beverly afraid to move or talk or do anything but stare at his intense face.
"Do you...ah, need a change of clothes?" Beverly finally asked, color finding its way onto her face as she briefly scanned him up and down.
He seemed as awkward and uncomfortable as she was as his hand threaded through his hair. "Um, if you have sweats...?"
"Yeah, yeah I do," she replied quickly, trying to erase the sudden tension between them. "I'll be right back."
Her heart was pounding a steady rhythm in her chest as she walked away from him to grab a pair of her cousin's sweats from the guest bedroom. The silly thought of I have a boy in my room kept playing repeatedly and stupidly in her mind. But the thought was quickly followed by a flurry of criticisms.
She was not supposed to get this close to him. But she did, and look how well that turned out. No, she had to stay away, she had to stay away. It was all too much, too fast. Too much like a sledge-hammer to her chest whenever she so much as stood near him.
No. It would be better to keep her distance.
When she came back with his things, she found Landon sitting on the edge of her bed, his mused hair falling into his eyes in an attractive manner, one finger casually tracing soft patterns onto her quilt. (For one strange moment, she was almost jealous of the fabric.)
But then he broke out into a small smile at the sight of her and she forgot how to breathe and she decided that she really really liked him. With a small grin of her own, she handed him his sweats.
"You know where the bathroom is," Beverly quipped with a shy sort of half-smile.
And that was it. No teasing, no innuendos, no nothing about the peculiar situation they were in. For a second, Beverly thought she was the only one who was being immature about the whole thing. Shaking thoughts out of her mind, Beverly quickly changed into a large t-shirt and shorts before Landon came out.
She was just setting an early alarm for Landon when he came out of the bathroom. Perhaps it was because he was changed into a thin shirt and sweats, or perhaps it was the way her heart lurched at the sight of him, but something had shifted between them.
He didn't say anything as he stood at the bathroom entrance, his eyes sweeping over her whole figure, her eyes, her messy hair, and her bare legs, once, twice, three times before approaching her.
She held her breath as she watched him with hooded eyes. He stood in front of her, silent and steady, before brushing strands of hair behind her ear. She shook with apprehension, her eyes darting down to watch his tongue sweep over his full bottom lips.
She stepped closer to him, not even thinking as her hands found his chest and his hands came up to cup her jaw. And then she was leaning up to him, seeking out the soft pressure of his mouth against hers.
And when he did meet her halfway, she sighed into him, before pressing into him fully and curling her hands around his shirt. She heard him groan just barely at the back of his throat, and unrestrained thrill shot straight through her. She moved her hands to clutch at his waist, and he responded by angling his mouth more. The delicate nature of their actions was marred by the hungry insistence that lingered behind every touch, every sigh, and every kiss.
There was something burning and electrifying and alive thrumming between the two of them. But there was also something tentative and quiet and so so gentle about the way they softly collided together. He made her feel like her carefully stitched seams were unraveling over and over again; like she was unknotting, unwinding, falling apart at the joints.
And then he separated from her, his teeth nibbling slightly at her bottom lip before pulling back and releasing her. She didn't even move until he nudged her toward the bed, a hint of a smile barely reaching his mouth. (She almost wanted to protest.)
But then she spotted his bandaged knuckles as he lifted the duvet, and she decided that it had been a long night. And even though it was incredibly frightening to be so incredibly close to another person, Beverly waved away her fears and followed him to the bed.
And they slipped in together, under the covers, their bodies shivering with something greater than just the absence of heat. Slow. Hesitant. He didn't know where to place his hands at first, and she wasn't sure how to tilt her body to match the long lean of his.
But somehow they moved and folded and twined together― limbs over limbs. His hand came up to cup the crescent of her waist, and she snagged a handful of his shirt in before pressing the rest of herself against him. One of his hands slipped beneath her pillow, and their legs flattened against each other, knees knocking, before they tangled together comfortably, almost lazily.
His breath brushed the top of her hair and she could feel the movement of his sternum when he breathed in and out. Everything was colored in intimacy, and it felt like her heartbeat wasn't going to quiet down enough to let her fall asleep.
"Hey Landon?" she whispered, her voice fracturing the stillness that blanketed them.
"I-I'm really sorry about what happened...with Levi," Beverly apologized, her voice trembling like a struck chord. There was something choking at the back of her throat that made it hard to speak.
"Hey hey hey," Landon quickly reassured, one hand smoothing down the curve of her shoulder, "You don't have to apologize for anything. He's the one that said all of those― those―"
She could feel him getting worked up again, and she pressed soft fingertips to his collarbone in some semblance of reassurance.
Her forehead found his in the dark, and she leaned against him, their hot breaths mingling in the space between their lips.
His voice was gruff when he replied. "Anytime."
God she was in way over her head.
And then his arm was tightening around her and she was sinking back into the softness of her pillow. The steady thrum of his heart echoed like a soft lullaby until her eyelids grew heavy. She felt his hand tighten around her just before she slipped away into her dreams.
That night, her dreams were soft and pliable and fuzzy-edged.
In the morning Beverly was shivering despite the layers of blankets piled on top of her curled body. In a sleep induced haze, she stretched out her arm, trying to find where Landon was, but her hand only curled around sheets.
For one split second she was incredibly angry at him. The smell of his aftershave was still buried in the folds of her bed sheets, and he had taken all the warmth with him when he left. She hated that his absence was so distinct.
She had never felt so vulnerable, lying there in her bed, trying to forget his smile, his eyes, his arms around her waist, the memory of his mouth; there was no lullaby quite as sweet as him exhaling over her parted lips.
With a small growl, she sat up in bed and spotted a pair of sweats neatly folded on top of her nightstand with a note on top.
I had a good time with you yesterday night. Thanks for the sweats.
See you in econ,
Beverly frowned at his signature at the bottom until she realized her conversation with Jace.
'The Clyde to your Bonnie, eh?'
'Something like that.'
At the time, Beverly thought that Landon was too far away to hear the conversation, but perhaps he still caught some parts.
Shaking her head with a small smile etched to her face, she got out of bed and quickly got ready for school. Just as she was about to leave, she grabbed the note, tucking it carefully into the back of her pocket.
She couldn't stop smiling even if she wanted to.
But then she thought of his bruises and his anger and his rage and she frowned instead.
Beverly glanced at Izzy, her eyebrows raised in amusement.
"Why are we partners?" Izzy finally blurted, her brown eyes direct and piercing.
Beverly quirked an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"Why aren't you working with Landon." Izzy asked. Even though Izzy was usually blunt and straightforward, it seemed to take Beverly by surprise that morning.
Squirming uncomfortably in her seat, Beverly tried to focus on the worksheet in front of her. Her voice was strained when she replied. "Just because I worked with him once does not mean I have to all the time."
"Okay," Izzy replied. However, she was so skeptical that the word stretched and molded until it sounded like oh-kay instead.
"You know he keeps trying to catch your eye."
When Beverly didn't say anything, Izzy pressed even more. "So nothing happened between you two?"
Her voice was completely unconvincing and her response came out sounding like a question.
"Right," Izzy said, rolling her eyes.
Beverly opened her mouth to protest, but no sound came out. What was she supposed to say?
Was she supposed to say that she saw him walk into class that morning and it was heartbreaking? She felt the same just-got-the-wind-knocked-out-of-me sort of dizziness one gets after riding a speeding roller coaster that whipped around corners and catapulted over huge peaks.
And the feeling was horrifying and freeing and awful and amazing. It made her wobbly and it made her head spin and it made her stomach drop, but in the best sort of way possible.
Because that is what scared her the most. She didn't want to feel so invested in him. She didn't want to care so much for him, because, at the end of the day, the idea of turning into the same shell of a person she did when Levi cheated on her was so much worse than any kind of maybe with Landon.
So, instead of saying anything, Beverly turned back to her worksheet and stoically said, "Everything is fine between us." Because nothing is going to happen.
"If you say so."
They were both quiet for a moment as they scribbled down answers.
When Izzy spoke again, her voice was soft. "I just hope you don't regret anything."
Beverly didn't even bother replying.
When class ended, she noticed Landon coming towards her out of the corner of her eye. Before he could say anything to her, she purposefully started talking to the girl closest to her and left the room quickly.
Once she exited the class room, she pretended not to notice him leave reluctantly in the direction of his next class.
During lunch, Beverly made a sharp detour away from the cafeteria and toward the art room. She didn't think about him, she didn't check her phone for text messages from him, and she didn't reread the note tucked into her pocket. Instead, she threw herself into finishing her acrylic painting.
When she left for her next class, her hands were smattered with paint, her lunch was half-eaten, and her chest ached like her heart was already fragmenting.
Landon Ford: Hey. I think we missed each other today.
Landon Ford: Can we meet up later or something?
Landon Ford: Where do you even go for lunch? I never see you.
Landon Ford: Text me, k?
Landon Ford: Are you avoiding me?
3: 49 p.m
Landon Ford: I don't get it. Did I do something wrong?
Landon Ford: C'mon, Bev. Talk to me.
Landon Ford: If you're mad just tell me.
Landon Ford: I seriously hate this silence.
Landon Ford: I miss you.
During lunch on Friday, Landon came banging into the art room looking as frustrated as ever. When he spotted Beverly perched on a stool, with a paintbrush in hand, he seemed to straighten up to his full height.
She watched him warily as he approached, trying not to drink in the sight of him. Her heartbeat spiked up in tempo and she was distinctly aware of her cheeks warming.
Even when he was close enough, he still didn't say anything. Unable to stand the silence or the dark look in his eyes, Beverly spoke first.
A tenseness immediately found its way into Landon's shoulders and he seemed to pause and assess her for a moment. She fought the urge to fidget.
"That's all you have to say? Hi?"
She didn't know what she expected, but she wasn't at all prepared for that hostile undertone in his voice. Her spine was stiff and straight as she regarded him.
Neither of them said anything for a moment, and, after standing awkwardly in front of her, Landon sat in the stool beside her.
"Where have you been, Bev?"
Whatever hostility was there before, was immediately replaced with his usual deep and tender voice. He leaned toward her. Expectant. She couldn't find any words that would lessen the guilt churning deep in her belly. He was too good for her― he had always been too good for her.
"Er...I got busy with...stuff," she answered lamely, while she motioned to the unfinished charcoal drawing in front of her. Her mouth was dry as she glanced at him.
"That's such bullshit and you know it," Landon countered, his voice low and rough and disappointed. Beverly looked away, wincing when she heard his voice growl around the swear.
"What's going on Beverly?" Landon pressed. Everything about him was intent, from his steady gaze to the rigid line of his shoulders. But there was also an undercurrent of urgency in his posture, like he wanted to desperately fix whatever had gone wrong between them.
She stayed horribly silent and stared at her charcoal stained fingers.
She had no words to express what she wanted to say. She had nothing to give him and she couldn't work her mouth into a proper, coherent sentence, and god he was too important for some half-hearted, uncertain response and, really, that was the whole problem in the first place.
He was too important. He was too important.
So she stayed quiet, and so did he, and it was absolutely unbearable.
It may have been mere seconds, or more than a few minutes, but after a while Landon let out a long sigh and got up from his seat. He stood for a moment, quietly staring at her, and searching her face for some kind of answer. (Perhaps he was just memorizing the lines of her.) His stool screeched against tile floor, and Beverly leveled her gaze at the table in front of her.
"Right. Okay, then. Fine," he muttered, his voice defeated and laced with self-loathing. He slung his backpack over his shoulder before moving away after ruefully shaking his head.
Just as he was out of earshot he turned to face her once more. When he spoke, his tone was stripped of all emotion. "When you figure things out, then come talk to me."
She still did not say a word.
For the next two nights she tossed and turned continuously. She hated his non-goodbye; it still felt like they had something between them, and, suddenly, Beverly couldn't find a good enough reason to stay away.
But then she thought about his disappointed expression, his hard eyes, and the pulled back line of his shoulders, and she couldn't seem to find any apology good enough for him.
On Saturday night, her sheets tangled around her twisting form, and in a fit of frustration, she threw them off of her warm body. Without thinking too hard about the consequences, Beverly pulled on a thick jacket, and warm boots before sneaking out of her house.
She grabbed her usual supplies: a couple of spray cans, old rags, a few stencils, a pepper spray can, and her trusty bandana.
Her mind was going a million miles per hour as she stalked through the streets of her quiet, empty little town Without Landon with her, it was like she saw the town as something awful and empty and dead; Beverly drew her jacket tighter around her shivering body.
She was still obsessing over her situation when she came to an abrupt halt. Craning her head at the town house complex in front of her, she realized with a start that she was near Landon's house.
She bit her lip, trying to quell the sudden surge of emotion within her, and ran over to the wooden fence that stood at the entrance of the complex. Whipping out a dozen spray cans, Beverly painted the fence, in big sweeping motions, her hand arcing over the wood, while hastily covering her mouth with her bandana.
The biting cold seeped into her fingers and she frequently flexed her hand, trying to get rid of the discomfort that stole into her joints. Her arm ached as she stretched upwards, trying to cover as much of the fence as possible; she wanted her work to be eye-catching so that Landon would see it no matter what. It was a quick and hasty piece, and it was messy and amateurish but there wasn't much she could do as her hand trembled over the words she sprayed.
When she was done, she wiped her hands on a rag, trying to get rid of the incriminating paint that stained her fingers, and she stepped back to assess her work.
An image of a city skyline stared back at her, along with a single lyric from the Matchbox Twenty song they heard in the cafe they ate at, right before their first kiss. Her heart thudded heavily in her chest as she read the line, her apology, and she hoped that Landon would see her work soon and forgive her.
Sighing quietly to her self, Beverly bundled up her things, stuck her frozen fingers in her pockets and started on the long walk back home. She didn't realize she was crying until her hand swept her hair behind her ear, and she felt the wetness on her cheek.
As she walked, Beverly realized that insomnia-induced moments were much more fun when she had Landon by her side.
When Monday finally came, Beverly was sitting alert and upright in Economics. Landon had not arrived yet, and her eyes were glued to the door, waiting for him to enter, waiting for him to lock eyes with her, and tilt his lips into that shy smile only reserved for her. She wanted to make sure that he had seen her apology.
She wanted him to forgive her.
Just as the last bell was ringing, Landon strode into the empty classroom, his collar turned up against the cold air. Despite the fact that Beverly was boring holes into his skull, he didn't look up, shattering any fantasy that she had about seeing him that morning. It almost seemed as if he was avoiding looking in her direction entirely.
With a small, impatient sigh, Beverly turned back to the front, folded her arms, and rested her chin on her elbow as Ms. Vargas began to speak.
"Hey, are you okay?" Izzy asked from beside her, eying her with concern.
"I'm fine," she said with a small forced smile. Izzy opened her mouth to retort, but Beverly just turned her head away, unable to stomach the curious questions she was sure that Izzy had.
Her teeth pulled at her lip. She could already tell it would be a long day.
Beverly sat through the next few periods in a trance, like her body was in functioning in auto-pilot mode while her brain continued to think about Landon. Did he see the painting? Was that why he was ignoring her? Was he purposefully ignoring her, or was it unintentional? Did he want to talk to her? Did he hate her?
The last sentence always turned her stomach, and she forcibly pulled her mind out of the vicious, uncertain cycle of questions whenever it came to that.
But, god, she was impatient and confused and anxious.
By the time lunch rolled around, her stomach was knotted in anxiety and her fingers were shaking. She had to talk to Landon.
In an attempt to overcome her frayed nerves, she marched into the cafeteria with all the bravado she could muster. Peering quickly at the numerous students milling about, Beverly tried to pinpoint his dark, curly hair and familiar bomber jacket. Where was he?
Walking slowly through the throng of teenagers, Beverly felt the beginnings of guilt gnawing at her insides when she couldn't find him immediately. She saw certain groups of students clumped together like a cluster of jocks here, and a set of band students there. God, she didn't even know who his friends were. She didn't know anything about him.
But she wanted to know. God she wanted to know everything about him and talk to him and just be with him. And wasn't that what mattered in the end? Wasn't that enough?
Yes, she thought fiercely, her hands closing into fists. It had to be enough.
Casting one quick, sweeping look around her, Beverly turned around and headed back to the art room. Despite the heavy ache that settled in her stomach, she reassured herself that she'd see him eventually.
But eventually came sooner than she thought when she saw him standing in the hallway, with his friends, near the art room. Just the sight of him had her insides flipping both in apprehension and yearning. Her stomach tightened unpleasantly as she approached him.
His back was facing her, so she couldn't see his expression as she walked up to him, and something about his broad shoulders and the way his clothes pulled taught over his entirety made her heart lurch up into her throat.
"Erm," she choked out, wincing at the squeaky sound of her own voice, "Landon?"
At her question, he turned to face her with raised eyebrows. His features were schooled into an expression of cool indifference, and she felt all of her previous anxiety that had built through the day hit her with a force that made her stomach churn and knees buckle. She hated that she couldn't read his expression.
"Can I―" she flicked her gaze to his friends that were assessing her. "Can I talk to you? Um, alone?"
She tacked on the last question with a small, pleading smile, hoping he wouldn't reject her outright (and in front of his friends).
His lips flattened into a thin line, but nothing else about his expression changed. With a small, imperceptible nod, he said, "Sure."
Relief colored her expression, and she smiled at him. This is why I like him, she thought as she led him towards the empty art room. He was forever forgiving, and never vindictive. Even if he did hate her, Landon would still give her the benefit of the doubt.
Although she should not have compared them, he was so incredibly different from Levi in the best ways possible. If she was in the same situation with Levi, she knew that he would have rejected her out of pure spite.
Shaking thoughts of Levi out of her head, Beverly closed the door of the art room behind them and stood in front of Landon.
"Um, hello," she greeted lamely when the silence became too loud.
He crossed his arms over his chest, and leaned against the table behind him. "Hi."
She fiddled with her fingers, before linking them together in resolution. She had never seen him so removed from a situation before. She hated his impassive behavior.
But, god, he had every right to be mad at her.
"Um, I guess I was just wondering if you saw that painting on your street?" she asked quietly, grimacing at her hesitant and unsure tone.
His voice was emotionless when he replied. "What of it?"
She twisted her hands once more. Was he being purposefully ignorant or...? "It was for you, Landon. I-I did it."
When she said his name, his head ducked down stare at the ground and he shuffled his feet. "So?" he finally asked, his voice gruff and impatient and unshakeable.
"So?" she repeated helplessly, her voice unconsciously rising in aggravation. "Don't you get it? I did it for you―"
"Do you want a prize, or something?" Landon finally snapped. Whatever indifferent attitude he was trying to maintain was gone and replaced with anger and pent up frustration.
A part of her was happy that he had left that cold facade behind and responded to her even if it was in anger.
The other part of her, however, became more incensed from his reaction, and she took one step closer to him. "Shut up, Landon! God, I'm trying to apologize here."
"Apologize?" he laughed derisively. "Well you're doing a crap job of it."
Something about his bitter snort made her spine straighten and her hands shake. She had never had his anger directed toward her, and she felt so utterly small in his presence.
"Well you aren't making it any easier―"
"Why should I?" he interrupted, stepping closer to her, using his impressive height to intimidate her. "You ignored me for a week, Beverly. You knew how much I liked you, and you acted like I didn't even exist. And after all we had―?"
He broke off quite suddenly and turned his face to the side, a deep frown marring his face. She stared at him in shock, everything inside of her quieting down at his revelation. Even her heart seemed to halt. He liked her...?
"Save it, Beverly. You've made yourself quite clear. I won't bother you―"
"Would you just listen to me?" she yelled, stepping up to him so that they were inches away. "I'm sorry, okay? You're right. I was horrible to you, and you didn't deserve it. Not one bit."
"Beverly," he started, his voice softer than it had been before.
"Let me finish," she insisted, trying to ignore the way his deep brown eyes were digging into her. "I was awful to you because I was scared. And I know that isn't a good excuse, but that's what happened."
"Beverly," he interrupted once more. But she continued as if he hadn't spoke.
"I'm sorry. You've always been so great to me. I like you too, you know? Did you know that? I like you so much. I like spending time with you and I like talking to you. And I know you must hate me, but, on the off chance that you don't, I want to start over. I want to be with you. Unless you don't―"
He interrupted her a third time, but now, instead of words, there was just his mouth on hers. And god, he kissed her like he couldn't stand being away from her any longer.
He simply stepped closer to her, snagged her waist, and pulled her into him until her entire front fit against his. (Until all their edges lined up and melded together.)
It was such a stark difference from how he usually kissed her, she had trouble keeping up with him at first. It was as if all of his slow, careful kisses were in preparation for this one, explosive, frenzied moment.
Somehow he dragged her even closer and her breath caught and halted and lost itself.
Eyes fluttering close, their breaths mingled over almost parted lips. She felt every second, every nerve, and every heartbeat in that millisecond.
And in that millisecond, time was stretching and shrinking and he was everywhere all at once. His hand against the curve of her cheek, the dip of her waist, the jut of her hip.
At some point, he smiled into her, and when he smiled she felt every piece of herself twisting together and fixing together and fitting just right, and, for one heart pounding moment, she felt so so perfectly whole and complete. Like he was her missing edge, her misplaced middle, her forgotten part she thought she left behind but found all over again.
His head dipped down to kiss her jaw, her pulse point, her neck, and she tried to match him, tried not to seem so eager even though every part of her was trembling from the weight of it all. From the feeling of him against her skin, her bones, her chest against his.
Every thing was so close that for every beat her heart skipped, his heart made up for it. Both of their ping-pong pulses colliding endlessly together. Quick, quick. Their lips met once again and her head tilted, and his hand tightened and smoothed over her spine.
And then she lost her breath. All. Over. Again.
When they finally pulled apart, they were both inhaling deeply, trying to calm their racing hearts. (Neither of them had any success with holding back their full blown grins.)
"So?" Beverly finally muttered, their lips still inches away from each other, her forehead resting on his gently.
Landon grinned back. "So."
"Does this mean I can keep your jacket."
She could feel his chest vibrate against hers as he chuckled softly. "Yes."
"Good," she replied, brushing her lips over the corner of his mouth.
"I prefer the term vandal."
He shook his head in exasperation.
She could not stop smiling even if she wanted to.
A/N: God it's been so long since the last update. It was so hard to get through this chapter. I think part of the reason it took me so long was because I wanted to split this chapter, but I like how it turned out now and that's all that matters.
What did you guys think of the last chapter? Did you love it? Did you hate it? Just to clarify, the first two lyrics in the song at the beginning of the chapter are the two lyrics that Beverly used to apologize to Landon. I figured it summed up their relationship pretty well.
Anyways thank you all so much for reading this story and supporting it. I've loved reading your reviews! Review Challenge: What are your Spring Break plans? Favorite TV show couple at the moment? What song do you have stuck in your head?
Love all you pickle monsters so much! Take care,
P.S. You don't have to read the Extended A/N if you don't want to. It's not essential to the story in any way. It's just some background information.
So I tried to insert a lot of street art references into this story and, for all of you who are interested, I just wanted to explain some of them further.
1. Invader: This street artist is originally from Paris and makes tile-mosaic pieces of Pac-Man related characters. He either places his tiles very high or very low so it stands out from other street art.
2. You Are an Acceptable Level of Threat: This is a title of one of Banksy's self-published books. The idea behind the title is that, through street art, people become more powerful and, therefore, more of a threat. (There's an interesting Huffington article about this too if you want to look it up.)
3. HOPE (André the Giant Has a Posse): So you may be familiar with the OBEY clothing line, or sticker, or the OBEY Giant which is all derived from Shephard Fairy and his original work called "André the Giant Has a Posse". André the Giant is a famous wrestler in the 90's, and is known as Fezzik the giant in The Princess Bride. Eventually this phrase produced the OBEY street art which is, in Fairy's words an "experiment in Phenomenology".
Phenomenology, according to Fairy, "attempts to enable people to see clearly something that is right before their eyes, but obscured." The OBEY sticker itself has no meaning and exists solely to make people react. People's various reactions to the sticker reflect their personality and nature.
Meanwhile, the HOPE part is a reference to Shephard Fairy's later work since he also created posters for Obama's 2008 campaign. His most iconic poster is his "HOPE" portrait. I just really liked this juxtaposition of OBEY and HOPE and how they're both related to Phenomenology.
1. Beverly's doodle of the phrase, "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is a reference to Banksy's documentary that includes footage of other street artists like Invader. A lot of my prior knowledge of the kind of graffiti that Beverly does, which is stenciling, came from this documentary. Definitely would recommend this if you're interested!
2. When Beverly says that the guy (Shephard Fairy) who made the OBEY sticker is a "sell-out", she's referring to the fact that he started his own clothing line, created posters for Obama's campaign, and commercialized his heart.