I silently watched Saunders walk away toward the door with a confused look on my face. I wasn't sure what exactly had happened between us. It felt awkward standing with him there, but now, I felt even more awkward after he was gone.
I really didn't belong there. He was right. I didn't even know why I agreed to come to the party in the first place. What was I thinking? I should have just stayed home with Vanessa and Maureen and dogged out on popcorn while watching a movie, but Wes wouldn't allow me to change my mind and insisted on me going with him; so, there I was. As soon as we got to the party, however, we had to part ways because his date wanted to spend some time with him. I couldn't really blame him for abandoning me. Besides, I was the one who encouraged him to go with her. He liked Jane and if they were able to work out that issue with Grant, then they were pretty much an official couple at this point.
Still, I felt like a loner wandering around by myself. Sure, I ran into a few classmates who were surprised to see me, but the conversations were short and a little strained. I really didn't know how to behave in that type of environment.
Although it was talking with Saunders, truthfully, it was the only entertainment that occurred to me the whole night. Even his friend, Shane, as peculiar and talkative as he was, made it more interesting. I guess talking with Saunders was better than not socializing with anyone else. Although there were a lot of people around, most of the faces in there I wasn't familiar with. They were just faces that I saw around the school, mostly the seniors, but never talked to. There was a good amount of juniors as well. I did notice Rich and Daniel earlier, but considering the dirty look I received from Rich when he saw me, I didn't think starting a conversation with them would be such a genial idea.
I didn't belong there, so what was I doing there?
Did I need to be more social? Should I walk up to the group of people and start talking with them? Should I find a guy and ask him to dance? Should I drink? Everyone seemed to be doing those things, so why wasn't I? Why couldn't I?
"Nice to see you made it, Natalie."
I didn't have to look up to know who it was. I instantly recognized that voice, and I could feel his eyes on me. "Chris."
He wasn't alone.
Yvette was by his side, holding onto his arm. She seemed to be looking at my outfit, almost as if scrutinizing it. I had on a pair of black pants with boots and a loose fitting shirt that I had purchased at the mall. She, on the other hand, had changed from her tank top and jean skirt that she had on earlier to a nude body tight dress that stopped just barely above her knees. She looked amazing, as always.
She really was Christian's other half. Looking at them together now, I could clearly see it. They belonged together.
A couple of seconds later after the outfit examination, her gaze snapped back up to my face and she innocently smiled up at me. "So, are you having a good time?"
I thought I saw a smirk on her lips as she spoke, but I must have imagined it. If not, then she was one hell of an actress. Whatever it was, it made me nervous. I wasn't sure what her deal was, but I was getting the feeling that she wasn't being truthful with her approach toward me.
"Thanks for inviting me," I said in a way that did not directly answer her question. I didn't want to lie but I didn't want to tell her the truth either. I had a feeling about her, but I wasn't sure what to make of her. I just knew that I had to watch myself around this girl.
I turned my eyes away from her to look up at Chris. He was looking right back at me, a slight smile on his lips. "Anytime."
What did he mean by anytime? Would I be invited to more parties now?
"Well, I'm getting dehydrated, so I'm going to go grab a drink from the kitchen." Yvette said, smiling at me one more time.
She and Chris shared a quick kiss before she detached herself from him and sauntered toward the kitchen, leaving me alone with the host of the party, whose eyes seemed to never strain away from my face.
Standing there with Chris was actually less uneasy than it was when Saunders was there. Unlike Saunders, Chris wasn't...gloomy. He always had a smile on his face and he never hesitated to show it. He asked me, "You're not having a good time, are you?"
I opened my mouth to tell him that I was, but the look on his face stopped me from saying it. It was a look that said that he already knew my answer even before he asked the question.
"Why did you invite me, Chris?" I asked instead.
I must have taken him by surprise because he seemed a little unsure for a second. He quickly replaced it with a smile again, seeming nonchalant like he always appeared. "Why not, Nat?"
"You didn't answer my question."
He took a couple of steps toward me. "Then, I guess we're even," he said with that stupid grin on his face.
I sighed and leaned back against the wall behind me. I turned my gaze away from Chris to stare at the dance floor. I saw Wes dancing with Jane, a content smile on his lips and all of his attention solely on her. Saunders' friend was dancing with a very pretty girl I remember seeing around school but didn't know, and he seemed happy too.
Even Rich and Daniel were dancing with a couple of girls from our class and appeared to be having a nice time. Unlike me, everyone seemed to be enjoying the party and they all looked like they had nothing to worry about. No hesitance or awkwardness or questioning every single scenario that could possibly take place. They danced with their partners and sang out loud to the lyrics of the song playing, living in the moment.
"Dance with me."
I gawked at Chris. "What?"
He nodded his head toward the dance floor. "You look like you want to dance."
He had an expectant look on his face, but I was speechless. That seemed to come out of nowhere and... I just couldn't.
"But...I, um, I really don't think Yvette would be OK with that," I mumbled, glancing up at him.
He let out a small chuckle, amusement apparent in his tone. "Come on, Nat. Dance with me." He held out his hand toward me.
I just stared at it for a few seconds, and then up at his face. His eyes were suddenly piercing, and my mind was suddenly in a haze.
"You want to. I can tell," he was still waiting for me to take his hand.
That was when I saw Yvette from the corner of my eye, staring at me from the kitchen hallway with a water bottle in her hand. She had no smile and definitely no smirk either. The light inside the house was dim, but I could tell that the look on her was one that meant trouble.
"I'm sorry...I need some air," I mumbled to Chris before swiftly walking past him, and I managed to get through the crowd of people without bumping into anyone all the way to the front door.
I quickly opened it and stepped outside, taking in a gulp full of fresh air. I leaned against the railing and tried to decipher what exactly happened and why my heart was racing.
"What the fuck happened to you?"
I jumped away from the railing and let out an embarrassing yelp of surprise, and my heart continued to race even more. I looked over at Saunders and received a strange look on his behalf. I took a deep breath to calm myself down and ignored his almost intimidating look. I guess I must have seemed out of it, standing there sucking air in through my mouth. "I thought you left." I muttered.
He shrugged, leaning against the railing a few feet away from me. "Just needed some air."
I nodded but didn't say anything as my mind wandered off on its own. Why had Chris asked me to dance with him? Why did he invite me to his party in the first place? I could sense something strange going on. And the way Yvette had looked at me...should I be worried?
"Why are you out here, Rogers? Shouldn't you be dancing with your boyfriend?"
I glared at Saunders, my pulse for some reason toning up again. "Excuse me?"
"Well, usually couples dance with each other when they're at a party," he presented, as if I wouldn't know that was the way couples acted with each other.
"Um...I don't have a boyfriend," I told him. Where did he get the notion that I had a boyfriend, anyway?
"I just saw him in there," he tells me.
"I really have no idea what or who you're talking about."
He frowned, looking at me as if I was retarded. "I'm talking about the guy you're always with, didn't you come with him?"
Wes. He must have been talking about Wes, and he thought we were a couple.
I laughed, taking him and myself by surprise. "He's not my boyfriend. Wes is my best friend."
I didn't know why the thought of Wes and me as a couple was amusing. Sure, sometimes we played around with the idea, but it was just for laughs. Our feelings were purely platonic, although Dick seemed to think otherwise as well. I thought everyone knew we were just good friends. He was pretty much like a brother to me, nothing more.
"What made you think he was my boyfriend?" I carefully asked Saunders.
"Shit, I don't know...you just act different around him," he shrugged.
He was right. I acted different around Wes, but that was because he knew me more than anyone else. I was comfortable around him. I could be myself with him.
"How...different?" I asked Saunders.
He glanced at me for a second with a frown still on his face before looking away again. "Well, you—"
My eyes left Saunders and I turned my head around toward Chris. He had followed me outside. He exchanged a look with Saunders that I couldn't read before his eyes landed back on me. He asked me, "Can we talk?"
I was hesitant. I was nervous and a little weirded out because I wasn't sure what was going on or happening. "Um, OK." I said, not sure that I really wanted to talk to him. I was afraid of what he might say.
Chris walked a few feet away from Saunders' hearing range and I slowly followed him, looking up at his face when he stopped and crossed my arms again. He stared back at me, but I couldn't recognize the look he was giving me.
I raised an eyebrow.
"Are you alright?" He asked.
Am I alright? Was that really what he wanted to ask me?
"I'm fine," I shrugged, my arms tightly wrapped around myself. There was a slight chill outside, and I wasn't wearing a jacket.
Chris was staring at me funnily. Silence ensued between us and it started to get uncomfortable. Why did I keep landing myself in these awkward moments all of a sudden? My nerves couldn't take it anymore. I was ready to go home.
"Why don't you want to dance with me?"
I clamped my mouth shut, not expecting that question. I didn't know what kind of answer he was expecting from me. I didn't understand why he was acting as if we weren't pretty much strangers. He was acting as if things hadn't changed. As if...
No, I couldn't think about that.
"I...I just told you. Your girlfriend wouldn't like that...and..."
He raised his eyebrow expectantly, waiting for me to go on. I sighed. I wanted to dance at that party. I truly did. I wanted to let myself go. I wanted to have a good time. I wanted to talk to people and not be intimidated. I really wanted to enjoy myself and just be outgoing.
But I didn't belong there. I just didn't.
Chris knew that.
"I just don't understand why..."
"Do you hate me?" He suddenly asked me, and I noticed the seriousness on his face and tone. "For what happened between us?"
"I know I'm not making any sense, Nat... I'm sorry, alright?" He seemed frustrated and I could only look up at him in awe. I honestly couldn't believe my ears. He was bringing it up and he was apologizing, and I didn't know what to do about it. I didn't know what to think or what to make of it. Why now? Why in that moment? After all this time.
"You didn't deserve to be treated the way I treated you, Nat. I didn't mean to hurt you, and it's been heavy on my conscience for a long time...and I know I should have come to you sooner, but I guess I've been a fool and I'm sorry for that. I just hope we can be friends again."
I was pretty much numb at that point. My heart was beating so fast and loud that I was surprised he couldn't hear it. It was too much. This...the apology...the way he was talking...I couldn't deal with that.
"Nat?" He looked concerned.
"I have to go," I stated, disregarding the disappointed look plastered on his face. He didn't stop me. So, I left…with Saunders.
I was an idiot. Something was seriously wrong with me. I should have minded my own business, but apparently that line had already been crossed a few too many times. I shouldn't have eavesdropped, and I should have left on my own when I had the chance to but no.
I overheard Rogers' conversation with Prince and that miniature decent part of me that seemed to have surfaced out of nowhere decided to stay planted where I was. It wasn't even that they were loud with their words, because they weren't. They were practically whispering to each other and the music inside the house was overpowering their voices, but still...I was able to pick up some of the words they exchanged and fuck, curiosity would be the death of me.
I couldn't believe I offered to drive her home. Seriously, I had no idea what the fuck I was thinking.
One second, she was walking down the steps away from Prince, hurriedly and frazzled, and the next thing I knew, my mouth had opened. "Need a ride, Rogers?"
I felt the burning look Prince threw at me, but heck if I cared at that point. I was too focused on cursing myself out for opening my mouth.
And, of course, Rogers took the offer. She couldn't even say no. She just looked at me with a pleading look, as if begging me to get her away from that place, and I didn't have the guts to retract my offer. I had no idea what I had dug myself into.
So there we were again in my car, me driving and her looking out the window as if the scenery was the most fascinating thing in the world—anything to avoid looking at me. Not that I blamed her.
Heck, I had already acted out of character, so I decided to try and get some answers while I was at it.
"So?" I gave her a look. "You and Prince."
It wasn't a question. The words he said to her...the way she was behaving...it was pretty much self-explanatory, surprising as it was. I just wanted to hear it from her.
"It's nothing," she muttered.
I scoffed. What did she take me for? A fool? "Didn't look like nothing."
"Just drop it, Alex."
Like hell. "For doing you this favor I think I have the right to know." I insisted. Sometimes I could be a nosy bastard, and if it involved the likes of Christian Prince, then I was all ears. "So?"
She sighed and finally her eyes turned away from the window and stared straight ahead at the road. Her voice was low, "He and I...we went out in junior high."
That much information I gathered. They had history. I needed more. "What happened?"
"We broke up."
She didn't answer me right away. I didn't expect her to; which meant she didn't want me, or anyone else, to know but fuck it...I was too curious for my own good. If I wasn't going to get the answer from her, then I would definitely find it out some other way. And if my assumption was right, then Prince had been the one who had completely fucked her up.
"Where are you going? This isn't the way to my house," she suddenly said out to me, noticing the turn I had failed to make.
"It's the way to mine."
"Oh...um, why?" She glanced worriedly at me.
"Chill, Rogers. I'm not kidnapping you. It'll only take a minute."
"If you say so."
This was probably another mistake I was making, but I just wanted to check on Corina and see how she was doing. I didn't like the way I left out of the house earlier. Although she had wished me a good time, I could still tell that she had been upset and it was bugging me. I couldn't enjoy myself knowing something was bothering her. My house wasn't far from Prince's place and it was on the way to Natalie's house.
A couple of minutes later, I pulled the car over my driveway when it suddenly hit me. Shit. I probably should have just dropped her home first. I was planning to leave her in the car and keep the engine on, but it was chilly out and well...It was already established that I was pretty much acting out of character. Although I was reluctant about inviting her inside my house, my conscience told me not to be rude and I fucking listened.
"You can come in if you want. I'll only be a minute though," I said, offering her the choice to say no and wait in the car, but of course Rogers kept on surprising me that night and wasn't planning on stopping anytime soon.
"Um, I could use the restroom if that's alright," she mumbled.
Right. So that settled it.
I invited her in, and I knew it was a mistake as soon as we stepped foot inside the house.
"Alex, is that you?" Martin's voice greeted us not even a second later. It was coming from the living room. "You're back early."
"Alexander!" Corina's frail voice yelled out as Natalie nervously followed me inside the living room. "Come watch the movie with us! It's hilarious! Tin Tin won't stop laugh—who's she?"
I could feel the nervousness flowing out of Natalie standing next to me. I probably should have warned her first, but fuck...it was too late. Not only was Corina's gaze on her but the other three pair of eyes in the room all curiously looked up as well. Dean, Denise and Martin all raised their eyebrows. My two brothers threw me questioning looks.
"Bro, when I said find yourself a chick, I didn't mean this fast!"
I glared at Martin. "Shut up. This is Natalie. She's...a friend from school."
"Um, hello," Natalie meekly muttered to my family.
Everyone suddenly spoke up at once, greeting her back and spent turns saying their names, except for Corina. She turned away and wouldn't look at me.
I walked over to her as my brother took it upon himself to welcome Natalie. "Cori, what's the matter?"
"Nothing." She curled up on the couch, and I knew she was lying because I could see the tears getting ready to spill down her cheeks. I scooped her up from the couch and pulled her close against my chest. Immediately, her tiny arms wrapped themselves around my neck, her face buried in my chest and sniffles sounding from her nose.
Fuck. I had messed up.
"Tell me what's wrong so I can fix it," I whispered in her ear.
"I don't want you to get a girlfriend," she whispered back to me.
I frowned, a little stunned at her statement. "What?"
"I don't want to lose you."
I patted her back. "You'll never lose me, Cori."
"But Tin Tin and Dean said—"
"Don't worry about what they said. She's just a friend. You're the only girl in my life. You know that."
She pulled her head back from my chest and her teary eyes looked into mine. "Promise?"
I smiled. "I promise." How could I break the heart of that adorable little face?
She smiled as well before wrapping her arms around me again.
"Natalie, come sit down, please," Martin said to her, dragging her over.
I peeked over at her, realizing that she had witnessed my exchange with Corina and looked a bit uncomfortable in my hallway. I put the girl in my arms down and she walked toward Natalie, sticking her tiny hand out. "I'm Corina, Alexander's little sister."
Natalie snapped out of whatever trance she was in and shook her tiny hand, a soft smile gracing her lips. "It's really nice to meet you,"
Corina grinned at her. "You too. You're really pretty. Do you want to watch Big Hero 6 with us?" Before she had the chance to protest, Corina was already pulling her down on the couch. Natalie gave me a helpless look, and I just shrugged before making my way over to the kitchen.
Not even five seconds later, my two brothers followed, one with a silly grin and the other with his signature stern expression.
"Way to go, bro. She's cute," Martin said throwing his arm around my shoulder and patting my head. "A little more reserved than your usual, but might just be what you need. I definitely approve."
I shrugged him off. "Get off me."
He just kept grinning at me as he leaned back against the counter next to me. "Just a friend, huh?"
I ignored him. He really knew how to annoy me. "What did you guys say to Cori?"
"What, about you finding yourself a girlfriend to spend time with?" Martin said. "Yeah, she freaked out when we said that, something about you not paying attention to her anymore."
"Come on! If you like the girl, go for it. Cori will get over it."
"I don't like her. We're barely even friends." I finally looked over at Dean, curious to know what he was thinking.
He met my gaze, and a slow smirk started to appear on his lips. "About time," that's all he said before starting back toward the living room. I stared at his back.
My brother and his cryptic words, ladies and gentleman.
"See? Even Dean approves; and that's saying a lot. So, date the girl," Martin patted my back before also starting to walk away.
"It's not like that with her; I'm just giving her a ride home." This was exactly why I doubted bringing her inside. I knew my brothers would jump to conclusions about me liking her, which I didn't. I didn't bring girls into the house that often. Heck, I never brought them inside my house. The last girl that was inside was Yvette, and that had been a long time ago.
"Sure," Martin said as if he didn't believe me. "And bring some snacks and drinks for your girlfriend!"
He had dashed out of the kitchen before I had the chance to grab him and connect his face with my fist.
I would just have to clear it up again later. I could barely tolerate Rogers, let alone think about dating her. And Martin was right, she wasn't my type. Fuck if I even knew what my type was anymore. I didn't have time for that shit.
I was getting some drinks out of the fridge when the front door opened and closed, voices floating toward me.
"Saunders, you piece of shit! How can you leave the party without letting me know? I wasted thirty minutes looking for your stupid ass and you—"
"Alex, Denise said you might need some help carryin—"
Another fucking awkward moment.
That was the only word I could think of to describe the situation. Hearst had stopped saying whatever he was about to say when Natalie interrupted him by walking inside the kitchen from the living room.
Not to mention that Kira, Wale, Mitch and Nadia were all behind him. They all exchanged looks.
"Hey, it's Natalie!" Hearst said a smirk on his face. "Didn't expect to see you here."
"So, you're Natalie," Kira said to her, also throwing me a glance. Wale and Mitch smirked while Nadia just raised a questioning eyebrow.
I groaned to myself.
Yeah, I definitely should have just left the party by myself when I had the chance.