Part 2 - Month One
With the new year comes resolutions, new looks, and fresh starts. At least for most people.
Keith wasn't so sure. Coming back from winter break, he was hesitant and kinda weary about how she would react to the time apart. He hadn't seen her the entire time and he was worried that she'd changed her mind about being friends with him.
With a sigh, he looks up into the bathroom mirror, seeing the shadows under his eyes. Today was January 3. He officially had until June. He walks over to his closet, wrapped in nothing but a towel from the shower, and pulls out a pair of cargos and a shirt. Throwing them on, along with deodorant and some cologne, he grabs his jacket and truck keys, heading outside in the brisk morning air.
During the entire drive, he wonders what he'll say to her, if anything. Will her hair be longer? Will she hate him again? His thoughts and worries plague him the whole way.
When he pulls into his parking space, he sees her car is already here. His heart stutters a bit and he hits the steering wheel in frustration.
Keep your head, Keith. Remember the game plan! He looks in the side mirror and sees her walking into the school, her hair a bit longer. He gives a small smile and gets out of the truck, following behind her at a safe distance.
She walks into English and he passes by, her scent wafting up through his nose. He breathes it in, closing his eyes momentarily. When he opens them, he feels a shove and his back hits the lockers.
"Watch where you're going, loser," Rafael Marquez's voice sounds out and he laughs, along with his group of buddies. He watches them go around the corner and sighs, straightening and heading to his first period. He sits in his Economics class with a heavy heart. She thought her boyfriend was so perfect and special. She really was ignorant.
After the event with Marquez, his heart hardens over, and he pushes away any warm feelings aside.
"Wait, Raff did what?" She asks Brooke as they sit in French, waiting for the bell to ring.
"Yea, he apparently shoved what's-his-face against the lockers this morning for no reason. Although, I can't really blame him, I mean, the guy's a total stalker." She turns her head down and looks at the worksheet Ms. Martinez placed on their desks. She couldn't believe Raff had done something so harsh.
"He's not a stalker, Brooke. Keith is actually pretty cool. He does things his own way."
"Whatever. As long as that freak doesn't fill your head with stupid fantasies, do whatever you want," she answers and Natalie can't believe the harshness of her tone.
When the bell rings, she heads to Chemistry and sits down, waiting for Keith. When he comes in, he doesn't even look at her. She tries to get his attention, but he just ignores her.
"Come on, partner, what's your problem?" She asks him and he finally meets her gaze. The teasing expression she'd last seen on his face is gone, and a chilling indifference has taken its place.
"Great guy, that Rafael. Now the Princess has everything, doesn't she? Stud boyfriend, perfect GPA, tennis champ. Tell me, just how is life up on Early Decision Tower, huh?" She balks at the bitterness in his voice and feels guilty, like she's the cause of it. She sees some of the coldness leave his face and she looks away, swallowing harshly.
She'd missed his teasing over the break, but she could see whatever sense of camaraderie that was between them was just dust.
"I'm sorry," she whispers. He laughs.
"Forget it, partner."
When the bell rings, she almost hopes he follows her, but today he doesn't. A sense of sadness fills her and, when she sees Raff, she can't even bring up the incident.
She goes to tennis, and wins the match. Her father reprimands her for letting an ace slip by her and she stares out the window, barely listening.
Later, she goes to The Brick with Raff, putting on a smile for everyone. And when she is back home, she stares in the mirror, wondering what's wrong with her.
The next day, she is on pins and needles, wondering if Keith will show. When he comes in to Chemistry, she lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding. They do an experiment and Miles assigns a lab report to be done after they finish.
They start on it, but don't finish before the bell rings.
"Alright, everyone! Your lab reports are due by next Friday. We'll have a quiz on Wednesday, so make sure you study! Have a good weekend, everyone." Keith is out the door before she can catch him and she sighs, heading to her last period.
Monday rolls around and still no word from Keith. She heads to practice that morning, thinking about her future.
When she gets to Chemistry, Keith is already sitting there.
"So, why Duke?" He asks as they do another experiment.
"I have a partial scholarship," she responds.
"It gonna get you a job in some big corporation?" She laughs.
"God, no. My dad used to work in a place like that. I wanna do something amazing with my life. So, where did you apply?" She retorts.
"Not going to college?"
"Not really my cup of tea."
"So than what are you doing after graduation?"
"The sky's the limit."
"That sounds like a challenge," she responds and he smiles.
"And you won't stop until you figure it out, Natalie Anderson."
"You're on," she answers. He turns his head so she won't see the bitter smile on his face. If she only knew.
By Thursday, she was near ready to scream. She'd not seen Keith all week and their lab report was due tomorrow. So, when the final bell rang, she followed him to his truck.
"Keith! Keith!" She called. He got in his truck and turned to face her.
"The lab report is due tomorrow," she tells him and he gives her a smirk.
"Ah, but the pressing question is how's Marquez?" He answers. She sighs.
"What happens between me and Raff isn't any of your business," she responds, hating how bitchy she sounds. "What about the lab report?"
"Hop in," he says.
"I have yearbook," she responds automatically. He puts the truck in Drive and starts to drive away, citing out the information she needs to finish the report. She hesitates for only a moment before running after him. "Wait!"
Ten minutes later, they're on bullet four of the report and she feels better.
"You know, starting your relationship based on lies probably isn't a good way. What's so wrong about telling him your spending a little bit with your lab partner, huh?" She bites her lip and looks down at the paper in front of her.
"My relationship is none of your business," she responds. "Okay, so the mole ratio is 2:1, so what could the oxidation numbers be for tin and oxygen?" He sighs.
He feels her eyes on him as he sighs and he grips the steering wheel a bit harder. He should feel good about the fact that she was lying to her boyfriend. It is what he wanted. So why did he suddenly feel like he shouldn't be doing this?
They finish the report and he takes her back to school, watching her retreating figure. He drives home and feels worse with each mile.
When he gets home, he barely makes it to the bathroom before he vomits, his stomach forcing up everything he ate today. He senses his dad coming into the bathroom and sits back on his heels when he finishes, wiping his mouth with the outstretched washcloth his dad is holding.
"The hospital called," his father responds. He stands up and grabs the counter to keep himself steady as he rinses out his mouth.
"What did they say?" He asks.
"They want to try something new," he responds. He scoffs.
"Like what? A magical injection? How about fairy dust?"
"They're going through the trials as we speak, but they said in another month or so that it'd be ready if we wanted to try it." He looks up at his father and sees the barely hidden pain.
"Is that what you want, Dad?" He asks. His father meets his eyes.
"I just want what's best for you." He nods and swallows.
"I'll do it." His father hugs him gently, knowing he's in pain, and releases him.
"I'll go make the call than," he answers.
When he father leaves, he goes into his room and lays down, falling asleep almost instantly.
He wakes up to the sound of his alarm going off. Rolling over, he sees that it's 5:00. With a sigh, he grimaces at the taste in his mouth and notices that he is covered in sweat. He gets up and sheds his clothing, heading into the bathroom for a shower. When he emerges, he brushes his teeth and combs his hair, seeing scars from previous surgeries and injuries.
He grabs a random pair of pants and a shirt, as well as his jacket. He heads out to his truck and starts it, heading off toward school. He parks and grabs out a pill and takes it dry, grimacing at the bitter taste. He pops out a mint tic-tac and gets out of the truck, walking into the school.
When he gets to Chemistry, he can't help the smirk when he sees her. They do an experiment and then a write-up and, while the two girls in front of them are distracted, he tips one of the beakers over, pouring some of the liquid onto the table.
"Oh, God," he says. Natalie looks up and moves the beaker.
"Be careful would you?" She asks.
"Am I gonna be in trouble for that? Are you gonna punish me?" He hopes she catches on and is secretly thrilled when she does.
She grabs a pencil and rests her chin on her hand. "I might have to."
"But you know how I feel about all that...And those spikey heels really hurt me."
"Keith," she says, scraping the tip of the pencil down his jaw line, stopping to poke it into his cheek, "you've been a very bad boy, and now you have to be punished." He closes his eyes and lets out a fake moan, fluttering his eyes open and looking down. "Do you mind?" She asks the two girls who'd been staring at us. They clear their throats and look away, embarrassed. She pinches his leg under the desk and he coughs to hide his laugh.
When the bell rings, he follows her. "So, I'll pick you up at 5:00."
"Keith, I have plans."
"Come on, I'll have you back by 9:00, I promise." She stops and looks at him. "It's not a date," he continues and she sighs.
When she turns and walks away, he smiles to himself, heading off to his last class.
All the reason why she shouldn't be meeting Keith vanish when she sees his yellow truck. She can't help the smile that spreads across her face. She forces it down as she walks out to meet him, climbing in next to him.
"So, where are we going?" She asks him and he smiles.
"Bowling." She gives him a look.
"Bowling? Why?" He doesn't answer her, only drives towards the town. After about fifteen minutes, he turns into the Salvation Army and she furrows her brow. "I thought we were going bowling."
"Changed my mind," he responds.
They go in and he finds a group of six different bowling balls.
"We only need two, though," she says dumbly as he points out the different ones.
"Ah, that would be true if we were actually doing some traditional bowling." he smiles up at her and she catches her breath. They grab the bowling balls and pay for them before heading out to his truck and placing them in the bed of it. When they get back in the truck, they head over to a body shop, where they watch a guy weld the bumper for the truck.
"Andy is an artiste," he tells her.
"That's nice, but you're running out of time," she responds.
"Not yet," he answers.
An hour later, they're sitting under the truck while he attaches the fixed bumper to the truck.
"So, you just go around getting spare parts for this and put it together?" She asks while she watches him tighten the bolts.
"I think of it as creating life using inanimate objects."
"And you do this all by yourself?" She asks. He sighs.
"Actually with my dad," he responds.
"Ah, so, is she your girlfriend than?" She teases and he looks up at her.
"Hold this tighter." She smacks her hand on the bumper to annoy him and he smiles. When he finishes, he kisses the bumper. "Don't worry honeybun, she's just jealous."
"Ah, so she is your girlfriend," she responds with a small smile. She glances down at her watch and looks up at him. "And you're out of time." She gets up and he sighs, squeezing the wrench tighter for a moment before releasing it. He pays Andy and they get in the truck, driving back to her house. She gasps and ducks down as she sees Raff pulling up to her house fifteen minutes early.
"Hah, he sure is prompt isn't he? I like that in a man."
"Shut up, you jerk. Drive around the corner." Her heart accelerates as she wonders what she'll say to him. Keith slows at a streetlight and she sits up, fixing her hair and making sure her makeup isn't messed up.
He watches her adjust her hair and makeup.
"Sneaking off into the night to meet your boyfriend...It's sexy," he jokes. She looks at him before continuing to check herself out. "So, I'll pick you up at 4:00." She turns to him.
"AM. He'll be gone by then, right?" He manages to keep the jealousy out of his voice.
"What are we gonna do at 4:00AM?" He doesn't respond and she gives him a look. "Keith?"
"It's not a date," he says and he almost wishes it was. She gives him a last look before getting out of the truck. He fixes his mirror and swallows before calling back to her. "I'll pick you up here at our secret spot!"
He smiles to himself as he drives back home, knowing he's one step closer to bringing Her Highness down.
He goes home and showers, smiling to himself.
When it's 3:45, he heads out to his truck and starts over to their new spot. When he gets there, she is already there waiting.
"So, just think about the stories you'll be able to tell your kids one day about how awesome you were in high school and how you left a bowling ball on your teacher's front porch...And his name was Walter." He smiles and hands her a bowling ball with the name Walter engraved on the side. She shakes her head.
"I refuse." And yet, ten minutes later, she is hurrying up to his front porch and placing the ball in front of his door. She hightails it back to the truck and jumps in, closing the door. "Hurry up, you jerk!" He laughs and drives off.
They leave another one on Principal Sassen's porch, which he had the honors of doing.
By the time they get to Marquez's house, he can tell she is having some fun. Her face is flushed and he can't help but think that she's never been more beautiful to him.
"His name is Marquez," she says when she sees the initials R.G. engraved.
"It's the thought that counts," he responds. She sighs, but picks it up and runs, placing it on the grass beside his car.
He ducks down when he sees a cop car patrolling the street. He doesn't see her run towards the truck, but feels her as she ducks down, her head landing next to his.
"We're so dead!" She cries out in a whisper. He takes out his tic-tacs and hands them to her.
"Take these if we run into any trouble."
"It's not funny, dipshit," she says. He chuckles when she covers her face as the spotlight roams over the truck. While it's covered, he glances at her and swallows again.
When the cop is safely away, he starts the truck again.
"So, ya hungry?" He asks. She looks over at him. "I'm buying," he coaxes and she laughs and shakes her head.
"I guess," she answers. He nods and heads over to a small cafe. They bring in the two last balls and order a coffee and two pieces of cherry pie.
He sips his coffee and watches her as she takes a bite of the pie, closing her eyes in enjoyment.
"You act like you never eat that," he says and she blushes.
"Actually, Mom put me on a diet a few months ago. Said I looked a little...curvy," she whispers, looking down in embarrassment. His shock is intense.
"And what does the boyfriend say?" He can't help but ask. Her face is scarlet now.
"He says it wouldn't hurt if I lost some weight." He can tell that the comment hurts her, but does not respond the way he wants to.
After a few minutes, she changes the subject.
"So, who gets these?" She asks, pointing towards the last two balls. He smiles.
As they drive away from the cafe, she can't help but feel a sense of peace within her as she glances up at him. His face is tired and she feels sorry.
"You shouldn't have come out this morning," she says softly. he looks down at her and raises an eyebrow.
"Oh yea? And why's that?" He asks.
"You look like you're dead on your feet, partner," she responds. He scoffs.
"Anythin' for you darlin'," he answers, pretending to pretend that he cares. She laughs and shakes her head. She can't help but wish that he actually did care.
When he drops her off at their spot, she glances over at him once more before giving him a smile and getting out of the truck. She jogs over to her house and opens the front door quietly, taking off her shoes and heading upstairs. As she nears her bathroom, she looks at herself in the mirror.
Her eyes are bright and her face is flushed. She smiles and turns the shower on, stripping off her clothes and getting into the warm spray. She didn't bother denying she'd had fun.
When she goes into her room, she grabs out a pair of sweats and a shirt, putting them on and climbing into bed to sleep for a couple of hours.
When she wakes up, the sun is shining through her window. She sighs and lets out a breath, shaking her head and feeling like this morning had been a dream.
When he finally woke up, he squeezes his eyes shut once more. The pain that coursed through him is enough to make him let out a moan of pain. Everything hurt. When his dad walks in a few minutes later, he doesn't hesitate before calling the hospital.
Since he was due for another round of chemo anyways, they decided to head up there.
When he enters the doors in a wheelchair, he hears a frantically ecstatic voice.
"Keith!" He turns his head and sees Billy sitting in a chair, already hooked up to an IV.
"I'm gonna kick your ass," he tells him and manages a smile.
"I'm gonna kick your ass," Billy responds. He sees Al nearby and gives him a nod.
When they hook him up to an IV, he lets out a sigh, trying to relax against the massaging chair. He listens to Billy talking, looking up at the ceiling.
After an hour, they put him back in the chair and wheel him into a room, helping him into the bed. He lies there for ten minutes before the nausea comes. He leans over, vomiting, coughing and spitting into the bed pan next to him. When he finishes, he leans back and breathes heavily, feeling the prick of tears in his eyes.
It didn't matter. He had a plan. Remember the fucking plan! He grits his teeth and tries to focus on that instead of the ache he feels deep inside himself.
A nurse comes in a few minutes later, along with his father.
"So, how long am I gonna be here this time, chief?" He asks the doctor. The doctor gives him a smile.
"And how are you, Keith?" He doesn't answer. "Well, you can go home tomorrow, but I would take it easy for the next few days. You can still go to school, but try not to exert yourself too much."
"So, no fantasy football?" He asks and the nurse blushes slightly.
"Keith," his father reprimands.
"It's a joke," he responds. The doctor smiles.
"It's alright, Keith." With another smile, they exit, leaving Keith and his father.
"How's the truck?" His father asks.
"Fine. Andy fixed the bumper on her and I'm waiting for the new carbuerator to come in." His father nods and he sighs. He closes his eyes and swallows a couple times.
"Do you need anything?" He asks.
"A SlimJim and a Twinkie, and a water," he responds automatically. His father laughs.
"Well, at least your diet hasn't changed," he responds. When he leaves, he breathes a sigh of relief.
Monday morning rolls around and it's a struggle to get out of bed. The pain is back, as well as the nausea, and he has to swallow three times to keep last night's supper down.
His dad knocks and he takes one look at him before speaking.
"If you want to go in late, you can," he says and he gives him a nod.
By the time he feels well enough to go to school, there is only two classes left. He smiles a little as he walks into Chemistry as the bells rings, taking his seat next to Natalie.
"Had a nice weekend?" He asks, knowing she saw her boyfriend.
"Actually, I did. And what did you do, pull the wings off of flies?" Her response is more harsh than usual and his brow furrows.
"What's the matter, darlin', wake up on the wrong side of Marquez's bed?" He knew it was the wrong thing to say, but he couldn't help it. The glare she gives him is enough to keep him quiet for the rest of the class.
When class ends, she makes her way to her car, feeling the frustration from the weekend pouring around her.
Raff wanted her to go away with him the following weekend, but she wasn't sure. They'd gotten into an argument about what he'd done to Keith, and he's denied it happening. He'd brought up how defensive she was about Keith and asked what had really been going on with them. The whole thing was going out of control and she fought tears.
By Friday, she wanted to let go and relax, but neither Keith nor Raff were interested in seeing her. So, she asked her brother, Zach, if they could go hang out.
"What's up, Nat? Need a night out?" She nods and he smiles. He takes her to a club he knows about and she gets a black X put on the back of her hand showing she is underage and they walk in. The music is blaring and she closes her eyes for a moment, letting the beat soak into her. He leads her over to a table where a group of people sit. She'd seen them all before, but didn't know them very well. They smiled and greeted her.
After a little while, she began to relax, ignoring her phone when Raff tried to call her.
When they left the club, it was well past 2AM. She knew her parents and Raff would be pissed, but she felt good, hanging out with her brother.
"Thanks for tonight," she tells him as they exit his car and walk up their driveway.
"No prob, Nat. You need a night out every once and a while...Without your boyfriend," he says and she smiles.
She goes into her room and lays on the bed, smiling as the lyrics from one of the catchier songs floats through her head. She would deal with all of this soon; right now, she needed to think.
And think she did. She barely saw Raff, except on Fridays where they met up at The Brick, because of tennis matches, and Keith barely spoke to her in class. She missed his presence, but couldn't tell him that.
Before she knew it, February was around the corner. She sighs and looks up at the calendar. January 31, it says back to her. She would see Raff and Keith on the third, which was Monday. But for now, she was alone. How empty she felt as she thought about Keith. She grabs out her old photo album and leafs through it, landing on the picture of the sixth grade play. And it was there that she saw Keith standing in his Russian Soldier uniform. She couldn't help the smile that spread across her face.
Uh, hello, Earth to Natalie! RAFF is your boyfriend, so stop thinking about Keith.
With a sigh, she lays back and goes to sleep, anxious for something...But she didn't know what.
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