Light Up My Sky

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Chapter 11

Derek pulled over in front of the building where Cindy lived, wondering what the fuck he was even doing there. He tapped the steering wheel as he was waiting for her, confused out of his mind. The sane thing to do would’ve been to give her those bits of the address he still remembered, let her deal with it herself and to never think about Cindy Bennett and this weird thing going on between them ever again. But no, count on Derek to deviate from the sane ways of the world. In fact, he’d pretty much avoided Ray for these past couple days on accounts of being scolded regarding this matter, had he met up with his extremely judgmental best friend.

And yet, here he was. He tried to talk himself out of thinking this was too crazy of an idea. After all, he’d known this girl for years. He was doing her a friendly favor. Sure, they weren’t exactly on friendly terms, but those were mainly technicalities. Derek sighed and told himself to stop bitching around like a little girl.

He checked his watch and considered leaving in five minutes if she didn’t show up, but then he realized he would be kind of a complete asshole if he did that. He sighed again and turned his head slightly, just to notice Cindy walking out of her building. Her hair was straight for a change, her ever-present high heels resonating on the pavement, and she was wearing a fluffy pink cardigan. Which was very, very fluffy. And very pink. Derek turned around and muttered a ‘Jesus Christ’ under his breath and rolled his eyes before she got in his car.

“Hi,” she greeted as soon as she got in the passenger’s seat, flashing a sharp smile in Derek’s direction.

“Morning,” he said, and started the engine of the car, getting it to move and heading in the direction of the firm. And then, because he couldn’t help himself, he pointed at her really pink and really fluffy cardigan. “Isn’t that a little, umm, ostentatious for a job interview?”

Cindy glared at him, but proceeded to apply some lip gloss, looking into a pocket mirror she’d pulled out of her bag.

“So?” she turned to him and looked him straight in the eyes, that Derek lost focus for half a second before turning his attention back to the road.

He shrugged awkwardly. “Just sayin’.”

Cindy chuckled lightly, waving a hand nonchalantly at him.

“It’s okay,” she replied. “So yeah, it might be a little ostentatious, but I don’t particularly care.”

Derek raised his eyebrows at her. “Isn’t the point of an interview, I don’t know, getting the job? Aren’t you supposed to try your best to make an impression?”

“I don’t like the idea of being judged for the way I look or dress, Derek,” she retorted. “I like to be judged for my brains. And once I have that part covered, no one gives a damn whether I wear pink cardigans or a Leprechaun costume.”

Derek snorted. She did make a solid point. It’s just that it had been years since he’d built a certain image of Cindy in his head, he’d painted her a picture of a brainless bimbo pinning after a guy who was way out of her league, a superficial plastic beauty that served as an empty shell. And these past days, it seemed to him as if she’d been pretty keen on proving him wrong. Because, as it turned out, Cindy was neither superficial, nor empty.

“What’re you interviewing for, anyway?” he asked her casually, and she shrugged as if it were no big deal.

“A job.”

Derek rolled his eyes. “Is it a job in the stand-up comedy industry? ‘Cause you’re hands-down hilarious, I’m tellin’ ya.”

Cindy laughed, and eventually turned to him.

“I majored in computer engineering. I’ve had a few internships over the years, but this would be my first real job in the field.”

Derek nearly drove the car into a pole.

“Computer engineering?” he exclaimed, and Cindy simply rolled her eyes. Yeah, not a brainless bimbo, either, that was for sure. “That’s pretty impressive. A lot, actually. I guess I never—“

He trailed off, realizing he was about to say something pretty insulting.

“You never thought there could be more to me other than pink cardigans and lip gloss?” she smiled bitterly, and Derek turned to her wide-eyed, stammering.

“Oh, n-no, t-that’s not, ugh, not at all what I meant. Jesus Christ. I’m sorry if I, umm, offended you.”

“It’s okay, Derek,” she shook her head, not seeming at all offended. “I get that a lot. You’re not the first person to think so, but it’s kind of the way I come across, don’t I?”

“A little,” Derek wrinkled his nose, but found himself smiling anyway. “I don’t know what to tell you. The pink cardigan and the lip gloss pretty much seal the deal.”

Cindy chuckled again, a little surprised herself at how comfortable she was growing around Derek. He still had some misconceptions in what concerned her, but she admired the way he shrugged them off one by one. And one by one as well, both of their defenses fell down like dominos. They were just too proud to admit that to themselves just yet.

With the corner of her eye, Cindy saw Derek grow a little serious.

“You know, showing Ray that there’s more to you other than pink cardigans and lip gloss might have helped your case,” he spoke softly, and Cindy blinked. “I mean, I know we’ve misjudged you and all that, and I’m sorry about it. I guess we never did stop to think twice about it. But Ray does appreciate a bright mind, and I can tell you’ve got it. Why didn’t you ever show it?”

Cindy never thought about that. And she didn’t know what was more shocking. The fact that she’d never stopped herself to wonder why Ray thought so poorly of her and to actually do something about it, or the fact that Derek was apologizing for treating her in response to pink cardigans and lip gloss.

“I don’t know,” she answered in all honesty, and Derek’s eyes widened at her admission. “In what concerns Ray, I did everything wrong. I know now. And it took some pretty brutal humiliation for me to realize that. It was the one time when I had all the means to get a guy and I chose the one way that could never work. I wasn’t able to tell that Ray would never be impressed by a pretty shell.”

Derek flinched a little in surprise at her using the same term he’d come up with earlier, and at the fact that she was opening up to him about all of these things. Oh God. What if she started to bring up some more girl talk? One mention of a tampon, and he’d throw her out of the car.

“But you’re not just a pretty shell, are you?” he found himself saying, watching her with the corner of his eyes. “If you ask me, it’s his loss.”

The words flew out of his mouth and Cindy’s eyes snapped towards him, widened, her mouth forming a small ‘O’. But surprisingly enough, Derek didn’t regret saying it.

“What?” Cindy asked dumbly, frowning, and Derek smiled awkwardly.

“Yeah. I mean, let’s face it, you are a pretty shell, and I mean it in the good way. But there’s gonna be a guy who’s gonna be able to see past the shell and grow hella fond of the smart girl inside. Y’know, the I.T. girl who majored in computer engineering.”

Cindy chuckled and Derek caught glimpse of a faint pink shade coloring her cheeks, a small shy smile playing across her lips. Well, that was quite the view. It suited her better than the flirtatious sly grins she used to shoot in Ray-Ray’s direction.

“You really think so?” she asked in a small voice.

Derek huffed. “I know so. I’ll have you know I had an embarrassing crush on you back in high school.”

Cindy’s smile faltered and her eyes grew wide once more, and Derek felt like slapping himself. Now he’d blown it. Because why get rid of the awkward awkwardness when you can make it awkward-er? He needed that on a T-shirt.

“You what?” Cindy asked quietly, and Derek pursed his lips, knowing there was no way out of this one. He’d walked right into it.

“Well, can you blame me?” he grinned like a little kid, going from bad to worse. “You were prom queen and all that, and you always took pity on me. Thanks to you, I never failed tests, I was always having my ass saved whenever I forgot to do my homework and I got to eat those kick-ass cookies. But I was too much of a wuss to act on it. And then you turned into Ray’s personal stalker, no offense, so I grew out of it.”

He bit his lip, waiting for her response, praying she wouldn’t slap him or something. There were a few seconds of heavy silence in the car, and then Cindy did the most unexpected thing she could’ve done. She burst out laughing. A loud, crystal clear laughter, articulate and a little nasal enough to be cute, and her head was thrown back and her eyes wrinkled at the corners. And Derek had no idea why he was noticing all these things.

“What?” it was his turn to ask dumbly.

“You had a crush on me?” Cindy managed to ask between giggles, and he had to admit, Derek’s pride was a little wounded that she found it so funny.

“Yeah,” he answered confused. “Why’s that so absurd?”

“You don’t understand, Derek,” she managed to get out. “You know why I gave you my homework and my cookies and why I let you cheat on tests?”

Derek frowned, not following, and Cindy laughed harder.

“Because I had this huge crush on you, too, you moron,” she shrieked. “I only approached Ray because I wanted to get a reaction out of you. But that never happened, so I wanted to get back at you by getting with your best friend. And that never happened, either. Next thing I knew, the whole thing with Ray blew out of proportion. But my God, you made my day.”

She laughed a little more, while Derek was driving speechlessly. After a while, his lips curled upwards into a surprised smile.

“Jesus Christ,” he chuckled lightly. “Ain’t that a plot twist.”

Cindy nodded, and a few seconds later, Derek parked the car in front of the I.T. firm.

“This is it. This is the place,” he told her, and he saw her smile and her earlier cheer fade. “What? You’re not like, nervous or anything, are you?”

He tried to laugh it off, but she stayed silent, looking straight ahead and biting her lip.

“Oh,” Derek raised his eyebrows. “You are.”

Cindy sighed. “I really want this job. It means more than just that. It stands for a lot of things that I need to prove myself.”

Her eyes were unfocused, and Derek realized she wasn’t talking to him anymore. It was more like she was repeating a mantra in order to get a hold of herself before she got in there.

“Hey,” he spoke softly, turning his body to face her. “You’re gonna be fine. Go flash your pink cardigans and lip gloss at them, and then knock them out. They’ll never see you coming. You’re gonna nail this interview, you’ll get this job and you can prove yourself whatever it is that you wanna prove yourself.”

Her eyes flashed to look at him, and he saw it in her eyes that she wanted to believe him.

“You think so?” he asked, and Derek saw the pattern on their previous conversation, so he followed the script.

“I know so. Now get your pink ass in there. I’ll wait for you right here, so that you can thank me for the speech once you’ll get the job. And then I’ll take your out for a drink to celebrate.”

She chuckled and nodded, and turned around to get out of the car. But in the last second, she turned around again and faced Derek, both of them suddenly aware that they had leaned forward and their faces were dangerously close. But neither of them seemed to mind. Their gazes were locked, and for a few seconds they just sat there, breathing the same air, neither of them daring to break the moment. Eventually, Cindy spoke.

“Thank you,” she breathed, and Derek opened and closed his mouth a few times, but before he got the chance to reply, she turned and got out of the car, walking inside the building like she owned the place.

Derek smiled to himself. Well, that was more like the Cindy he knew. He couldn’t quite place the exact same second when that happened, but all of a sudden, the sharp sound of her heels on the pavement didn’t strike him as annoying anymore. It was more of a signature of hers, and Derek wondered what could’ve happened to her to make her want to announce herself so loud, to make her want to make such statements even if they weren’t truly beliefs she stood for. Derek wasn’t sure he wanted to dig into that. Because it would’ve involved talking to Cindy about it, and that would’ve meant bonding, and Derek didn’t do bonding. Especially not with Cindy. As cute as this whole story about them having a crush on each other all those years ago, this wasn’t high school anymore. And they’d both changed a lot since those times.

The whole car smelled like Cindy, like lilies and vanilla, and Derek needed to get her out of his head for the time being. He didn’t regret being there for her today, since it was clearly some harsh time for her. Hell, he didn’t even regret suggesting going out for a drink with her, even if the last time he’d done that, the consequences had been pretty dramatic. But for this time when she was inside, he wanted Cindy out of his system.

He walked around the car and leaned on it, hands stuffed in his pockets, and waited. He considered giving Ray a call and use this dead time to catch up with his best friend, but then he would have had to tell him where he was and what he was doing and with whom he was, and Derek wasn’t really in the mood for a lecture. What Ray didn’t know couldn’t hurt him.

So he went back to waiting. And waiting. And he waited for an hour and a half.

Eventually, the front door opened and out came Cindy with a wide smile on her face. Derek felt a smile of his own blooming on his lips in return. And before he could acknowledge what was going on, Cindy started running and she threw her arms around his neck, laughing hysterically.

“I got it!” she shrieked. “I got the job!”

Derek laughed in return and returned her hug, a little taken aback, but then again, who was he to tune down her happiness? The girl seemed like she could use some.

Eventually, she unwrapped herself from Derek’s arms, looking a little embarrassed for having reacted like that, but that cute smile still plastered on her face.

“Congrats, Cindy,” Derek smiled back, their fingertips still touching slightly, but they were too hyped to notice. “Guess I owe you a drink now, don’t I?”

Cindy laughed whole-heartedly.

“Oh, I’m holding you to it.”

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