Eric’s POV –
The bell had rung, signaling that it was time to head home.
I hated that I wouldn’t be spending any alone time with Cecilia after school like it was originally planned, but the importance of her and her father’s broken relationship was something I knew she needed to make time for.
I was going to make sure it went well.
Unloading my locker with the books I would need for homework tonight, I felt the rectangular device inside of my pocket vibrate.
I pulled it out and answered, knowing who was on the other end.
“What’s going on? Why are you calling me now?” Mentally slapping myself, I went around the corner of the hallway into a dead zone where no students were lagging.
“I just wanted to tell you that I don’t think tonight is a good idea.” The voice said uneasily.
“And why not? It’s the perfect way to reconcile.” I urged, growing annoyed.
“I understand that, but it’s no use. There is no way I can salvage any of this.” He sounded defeated.
“Of course not, with that attitude. Just suck it up and do what you have to do. It’s for your own good and for hers too.”
With that, I lowered my phone and tapped the screen, ending the call.
Shoving my phone back into my pocket, I walked back around to the hallway with my locker and saw Cecilia standing by it, waiting as patiently and elegantly as ever.
Not caring about anything but her, I walked up to her in a confident stride as I embraced her with a tight squeeze, leaving a tender kiss on the surface of her cheek.
“Took you long enough.” She teased.
“Sorry, had a phone call to take care of.”
“With who?” She asked innocently.
“Um, my dad. He wanted to ask my opinion on something.”
Cecilia thought nothing of it as she laced her fingers around mine.
“I wish I was spending time with you tonight instead of my father.” Her voice sounded full of disappointment.
“I know babe.” My words brought a small smile to her lips, which brought me joy.
“Hey!” She exclaimed, her eyes lighting up with hopefulness.
“Can you come with me?” She asked, which almost sounded like a plea.
“Uh, I’m not sure. I think you guys need to talk alone about everything. I would just be an awkward third wheel in a sense.”
“Oh c’mon! You won’t be. If anything, he’ll be the third wheel.”
I looked down at my feet and chewed at my bottom lip.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?” I asked, regretting it.
Her eyes lifted into a smile again. “Yes! It really is.”
“Alright, I’ll pick you up at seven and we can meet him at the restaurant.”
She jumped into my arms and gave me a heart-jolting kiss that sent a sense of need through my entire body, wanting more.
“See you later, gorgeous.” I shot her my most dazzling smile and then turned away heading for the front doors to the school. I would’ve offered to drive her home, but I knew she brought her new car to school.
She loved the attention she got from it. Everyone asked her where and how she got it. She wasn’t one to get much attention before, but with the car, as well as Layla and myself giving her that extra confidence boost, she’s started seeing herself in a new light.
I loved the confidence she wore. There were still moments of uncertainty and second-guessing, but she handled her emotions well. I haven’t seen her take a pill in a while, despite yesterday when we were car shopping, and I was grateful. I hated that she had become so dependent on them. I wanted to break her free from it all, even though I knew that wasn’t going to be an easy task.
Her whole life she’s felt unwanted, unnoticed and alone. I only know this from small things Layla had told me. I was sometimes envious of my sister because she had a relationship with Cecilia that I would never have, although she could feel envious of me as well. I know she didn’t like that I was dating her new best friend, but she was still happy that we were happy. That’s all that matters to me at the end of the day.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Cecilia meant a lot to me, and while I wasn’t always happy with my actions, I knew that she was the one for me.
I was never big on relationships before. Layla can confirm that much. I would date around, sure, but I would never make any of those dates last. I never wanted to be tied down. I never wanted to be spoken for. With Cecilia though, it was different.
I tried to push her away at the beginning, but I soon realized after that, that I couldn’t do it anymore.
I needed her to be in my life. I needed her.
It was 6:30pm and I was already showered and dressed. I went for the casual dark-washed jeans and black button up dress shirt. I styled my dark hair and sprayed a bit of cologne for good measure.
I wasn’t sure why I was trying to impress anyone. If anything, her father should’ve been the one trying to impress us. He should’ve been the nervous one.
I shrugged away the thoughts and focused on something more important. Cecilia.
I didn’t want to push her into this, but I knew it would be for the best. Every girl needs a father and I knew that to be true thanks to Layla. When we found out about her father and all that she and her mother had been through before meeting my dad and I, I knew that we needed to be there to protect her and help her heal.
I needed to help Cecilia heal too. Except in this situation, her dad was here and could be a part of her and Brody’s lives, if they would let him.
I know I’m doing the right thing.
As I was leaving my bedroom, closing the door behind me, I saw Layla in her room lying on her bed with her door just slightly ajar.
I peeked in and she glanced up at me from her phone that seemed glued to her hand. I gave her a small smile and she gave me thumbs up in a way to bid me good luck on tonight’s dinner.
She knew it wasn’t going to be an easy one.
Descending from the stairs, I saw my mom seated at the kitchen bar.
“Hey sweetie, off for dinner? You look handsome! Don’t get any ideas afterward with Cecilia.” She pointed her finger accusingly.
“Mom...” I warned.
“Sorry not sorry, hun!”
I rolled my eyes and headed for the front door. “I’ll be home later. Night!”
I got to Cecilia’s a quarter to seven and made my way up the pavement to her front door, gently knocking.
“Eric! Where have you been?” Brody cheered, leaning in for a quick hug.
“You know, around.” I teased, messing up his hair.
“Don’t do that, I’m not a child.” He deadpanned.
“Sorry bud, but you are.” I laughed.
“Is Cecilia ready? It’s almost seven.” I asked as I made my way to the couch in the living room.
“You know girls and their stupid make-up. It could be days.” With that, he disappeared into the kitchen.
I chuckled and made myself comfortable as the TV guide channel played, providing a little noise.
I jumped at the sound of a throat being cleared. “Ahem.”
“Oh! Hi Ms. Collins. How are you tonight?” I asked, my cheeks growing a soft shade of pink.
“I’m fine. How are you?” She asked, though she seemed disinterested.
“I’m great! Just waiting on Cecilia.”
Now would be a perfect time to enter the room, Cecil.
“Listen, I know you bought the car for her as a gift, and I’m not saying I’m not grateful, I just wish you would’ve ran it by me first.” Her tone was icy as she sat on her recliner, reaching for her already filled glass of wine.
“I understand completely and I do apologize. It was more of a spur of the moment thing. Not a lot of planning went into it.” I tried to reason. Anything to get her off my case.
“Hm. Alright then.” She grabbed the remote sitting on her armrest and began flipping channels, stopping when Grey’s Anatomy started to play.
“Great show.” I commented, knowing I had never even seen it before.
“Oh my gosh I know! Don’t you just love McDreamy?” She gushed, forgetting I was a male apparently.
“Uh... McDreamy, sure. He’s great.” I laughed nervously.
“I have the entire series on DVD up until this new season! It’s safe to say I’m addicted.” She laughed before taking another swig of her wine.
“Well of course, anyone would be if they took the time to watch it.” I lied. I would never be addicted to this show, even if I watched every season myself.
Renee smiled and then turned the volume up, silently letting me know that she didn’t want to chat anymore because she was too engrossed into the program.
Finally, Cecilia walked into the room.
“Ready?” I asked with a smile.
“As I’ll ever be. Let’s just get this over with.”
Great, she wasn’t thrilled in the slightest. I hoped that would change as the night went on.
“Have fun, sweetie!” Renee said, “Oh and Cecilia?”
“Behave.” She warned, pointing her finger even though her eyes never left the TV screen.
“Sure.” She deadpanned, “Night mom, be home later.”
“Eric?” Cecilia spoke moments after we shut the door behind us.
“Can we take my car? I want to rub it in his face. We can just come back here afterward and then you can drive home.”
“Alright, still want me to drive?” I asked, trying to lighten her mood.
“No, I’ll do it.” She said with an evil smile as she yanked the driver’s door open and sat inside.
I sat in the passenger seat and looked up at the ceiling of the car, praying that tonight goes smoothly.
Cecilia’s POV –
We reached the restaurant eight minutes after seven, and I saw him standing by the door, a slightly annoyed look on his face.
Relax you ass, we’re only eight minutes late. You’ve been late to my entire life.
Eric and I got out of the car, and I let the door slam shut, causing Eric to wince at the loud sound.
“You alright?” He whispered as we walked towards the entrance of the diner.
“Peachy.” I replied through gritted teeth. The closer we got to the door, the more I wanted to turn around and run away. I didn’t want to be here and everyone knew it.
“Well hey kids! You must be Eric. I’m glad you came, I’ve been waiting to formally introduce myself.” He reached his hand out in front of Eric and I spitefully pulled Eric away and into the restaurant before he had a chance to react.
“Let’s get inside, I’m hungry.” I lied.
Michael trailed behind as we entered the busy diner. A short blonde girl approached us in her uniform and offered us a warm smile.
“Hello, welcome to Mel’s. How many?”
“Three.” Michael announced from behind us.
“Right this way.” The hostess smiled.
She brought us to our table and passed out our menu’s.
“Carrie will be with you shortly to take your orders. Enjoy!”
We all said, “thank you”, in unison and in a second, she was gone.
I was sitting beside Eric with Michael opposite of us. The silence was annoying and I couldn’t keep quiet much longer.
“So, Michael. Or is it Mike now?” I coldly asked.
“Um, Michael is fine.” He hesitantly replied.
“Michael, what brings you back to Greensdale? It couldn’t have been us.”
“I um... well-” But before he could finish, Carrie our server, approached our table wearing the same smile that the hostess wore.
“Hi, I’m Carrie and I’ll be serving you today. Can I start you all off with something to drink? Ladies first.” She smiled, looking at me for an answer.
“Sweet tea please.”
“Alright, and for you?” She looked at Eric with the same enthusiasm.
“Um, I’ll take a Mountain Dew.”
“Wonderful choice.” She smiled, this time showing her bright white teeth.
This girl better think twice.
“Of course you’d pick that, you’re so predictable babe.” I cooed, placing my hand possessively over his.
I noticed Carrie’s smile drop a little, but she picked it right back up and turned to Michael.
“And what would you like, Sir?”
“Sweet tea as well.”
“Figures.” I muttered under my breath.
Carrie looked at me strangely for a second and then quickly went off to get our drinks.
Surrounded with silence again, Eric spoke up.
“So, Michael, does Greensdale seem different since you last saw it?”
I wanted to slap Eric. Why would he ask that of all questions? The only thing he did was bring up the reminder that Michael left us.
“Well, a little. Some things are the same though.” He said with a wary smile.
I’m not the same since you left. I’ll never be the same.
“Alright, let’s stop the small talk.” I blurted out before I could think about it.
“We all know why we’re here. So, enlighten me Michael. Why are you such a coward?”
I saw a hint of anger flash over his eyes before he started to look regretful.
“Cecilia, please... I’m sorry for everything I put you and your brother through.”
“It’s not just us. It’s mom too. You hurt her just as bad as you hurt us, if not more. I see the pain deep in her eyes every single day. Don’t sit there and pretend that you did nothing to her.”
“You’re right. I did hurt her. But she hurt me too.” He defended. “It was a two way street and the way we would fight... it just wasn’t healthy anymore. I couldn’t stay with her.”
“You could’ve stayed with us though. You could’ve still had a relationship with us. We were your kids dammit. Does that have no effect on you?” By this time, I was furious.
Before things got too out of control, Carrie arrived with our drinks.
“Here you go! Can I take your food orders now?” She asked wearing the same robotic smile she was wearing before.
“Sure.” Eric finally chimed in.
“I’ll have the steak medium rare with a baked potato and a side of broccoli.”
“Would you like any sour cream or cheese on your potato?” She asked, her smile growing and her eyes turning flirty.
“Sure, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. By the way, that’s a very nice car you have out there. The mustang right?”
“Carrie is it?” I butted in. “You see that car out there?” I pointed to my mustang and Carrie nodded furrowing her eyebrows.
“That’s my car.” Her eyebrows shot up in surprise. “And do you see him?” I pointed towards Eric who happily placed his arm around my shoulders with an amused smile resting on his lips.
“He’s my boyfriend. So, why don’t you finish taking our orders and bring us our dinner when it’s ready because that is the only thing you’re required to do.” I said in a mockingly happy tone.
She let out a nervous chuckle. “Of course.”
She took Michael’s order, followed by mine, and left quickly without giving Eric another look.
After fifteen minutes of Eric and Michael chatting about useless guy things like football and basketball, our dinner arrived hot and mouthwatering.
I got a grilled chicken Cesar Salad with a side of Alfredo pasta, and Michael got a boring bacon cheeseburger with fries. Typical.
We mostly ate in silence, a few meaningless words exchanged here and there.
I tried my best to be nice, but I couldn’t. Why should I have to be? He wasn’t exactly nice when he decided to desert us.
Speaking of dessert, I ordered a chocolate brownie with vanilla ice cream to share with Eric.
Michael didn’t order anything.
“Not much for sweets?” I asked.
He looked up at me, surprised that I asked a question that didn’t involve his leaving, and he gave a small smile. “No, not really. I’m more for savory.”
“Funny, Brody is the same way.” I thought out loud.
Michael perked up at the mention of Brody.
“Brody. How come he couldn’t make it?” He asked with a frown.
“Um, mom didn’t think it was a good idea to let him see you just yet. She wants to make sure you’re legitimately here and not just going to disappear again.” I sighed.
“That’s fair. I can’t blame her for hating me and not trusting me. I’m just shocked you agreed to join me for dinner. I’ve really missed you all.”
“Could’ve fooled me...” I mumbled.
“I know it seemed like I didn’t care, Cecil.”
“It’s Cecilia.” I barked.
“Right, Cecilia. I do care, deeply. It was just a very hard time for me back then. Your mother and I didn’t agree on anything, and we never got along the way parents are supposed to. I always meant to come for you and your brother, not to take you away but just to see you. It’s just, as each day passed by, I got weaker and weaker.”
"You got weak?” I spat.
“Babe... let him finish.” Eric mumbled beside me, slowly rubbing my thigh underneath the table in an attempt to comfort me.
I gave him a look but shut my mouth anyway.
“I knew that the longer I was away, the easier it would be for your mother to move on. I also knew that with each passing day, you and your brother were slowly learning to live without me. I didn’t want to come back out of the blue and confuse you even more than I already did when I left.”
Why is he making sense right now? Is it because I’m older? I’m not sure.
“The truth is, it hurt me every single day that I was away. I knew your mother hated me and I made myself believe that all of you would be better off without me. I knew she was strong enough to take care of you both.”
“It would’ve been a little less stressful if you would’ve stayed.” I could feel the strings on my heart tugging with each word, ready to rip apart at any moment.
I didn’t want to have a breakdown in the middle of the diner.
“Trust me, I’ve realized that. Sadly, by the time I did, it was too late. You and Brody were older, most likely didn’t remember me. I was just so messed up that I didn’t even try. That’s my biggest regret.”
“Well I did.”
“You did what?”
“I remembered you. I screamed for you that day... that day that you left. I screamed for you and you didn’t even look at me. You were looking past me. I waited every single day of my life up until I hit twelve years old, hoping that you would come back. But you didn’t. After that, I just gave up. I lost hope. I buried the heartbreak that I constantly felt and I moved on.”
Michael looked at me with an expression that even I couldn’t describe. Knowing that he caused us this much pain, caused me this much pain, made him look broken too.
He opened his mouth to say something, but the silence remained.
Carrie walked by and dropped off the check, smiling as she left.
Michael took the bill and went to pay it as Eric walked me outside into the cool air.
“Well, that was emotional.” He stated.
“That’s my life, Eric. Emotional.”
He gently rubbed circles against my lower back and placed a kiss on the top of my head. I buried my face into his chest and let out a breath I didn’t even know I was holding.
Michael came out and stuck his hands into his jean pockets.
“Cecilia...” He said softly.
I detached myself from Eric and turned to him. “Yes?”
“I’m so sorry.” His piercing brown eyes were boring into mine, trying to find just a hint of forgiveness in them.
I walked up to him and gently placed my hand on his shoulder.
I let go and grabbed Eric by the hand, leading him to my car.
I would’ve started crying, except the sudden urge to smile came over me and I did just that the entire way home with Eric right beside me, his hand placed firmly in mine.