Chapter 18 - Love and Hate
CHAPTER 18 - LOVE AND HATE
Together already. That brat doesn't spoil a second, does he? I gritted my teeth as I noticed Natalie sliding through the cafeteria queue while laughing and chatting with Kyle.
All of a sudden he notices her. He's never even seen her and now he's always around her. I think the reason is pretty obvious. It's just to irk me. Because he damn knows.
My jaw clenched as, once he spotted me, Kyle smirked at me while heading to an empty table with her. There you are, the confirm. All of this being around her, it's just to get on my nerves. But two can play this game, you know. So I stood up from my seat I'd just taken and reached their table.
Only a few minutes ago I'd mustered the courage to come up to her and apologize for my odd behavior of yesterday, but then I saw her there, looking cuter than usual, and ... well, for as odd as it sounds, I just melted underneath her puzzled gaze.
Yeah, I, Eric Rivers, the school's nightmare, the epitome of bad, as they call me, powerless when such an innocent and defenseless girl stares at him with those big hazel eyes holding nothing but confusion and, possibly, irritation.
That she doesn't like my presence, I know it too well. It's so perfectly clear every time we're alone. Because I scare her, she said. I am always so rude that I frighten her.
"Mind if I join?" I asked as I sat down across from her, next to him. Natalie's eyes were wide as she saw me. She probably thinks I'm stalking her. My stunt in the gym the other day was an hazard, yesterday only made it worse, and just earlier ... I'm probably digging my own grave when it gets to her, I know. I bet she's even more afraid of me now, but I have to think it's for the best.
Kyle's jaw clenched, even if only for a moment, then he gave me one of his fake smiles as he spoke: "Rivers ... sure. There's room for three too." I bet Natalie, so blinded by her feelings and his starlight reputation of angel of the school, didn't even spot the venom in his words.
This boy's like a cobra, ready to attack whenever you less expect it. He's as sneaky as nobody I ever met is. But no, that's just me thinking it because we don't get along. Kyle is not bad. I am the evil one. He's this lovely angel everybody praises, while I am only the troublemaker.
"Thought this was a brainstorming for our project." I commented sarcastically, looking in between them. Natalie looked like she was about to faint. Do I scare her that much? Although she concealed it by starting to eat. Her face was pale.
Kyle smirked as he followed her. "Sure. We're proceeding well, aren't we?" He commented, then turned to Natalie, who was still silent.
Duh, I've freaked her out with all my stunts in these days, I know I have. I bet she'll be walking miles away from me now. Normally seeing people so afraid of me would amuse me, but Natalie ... the afternoon alone with her on Saturday was pure bliss, believe me, even if I had to keep my mask on, because what she expects from me is not the gentle boy helping her with Math, no, she expects the ruthless bad boy glaring at her every moment. And that's what she gets. For the greater good,I should say. To detriment of my own stupid self,might be a better definition.
Kyle turned to her and told her something that made her smile while the blood in my veins boiled. He's doing all of this just to irk me, I know he is.
He's playing with fire, though. This is not the nth game he plays, where I'm the evil ogre and he's the adorable angel everybody sides with. This is about him being willing to play with her feelings just to get back at me and like Hell I'll allow that.
He knows she's head over heels for him. He's not stupid. He's known she's crushing on him since the first moment he noticed her on Monday. Blind idiot. All these years and only now he notices her. And simply because news reached his ears that I ...
My eyes scanned the cafeteria for a moment and I realized almost everybody was, even if discreetly, gaping at us. Of course, it's not just me and Kyle at the same table, while normally we steer accurately clear of each other's path, but it's also the most unknown girl dining with us.
I'm afraid she's not gonna be invisible anymore after this project. People have seen her either with me or him already and while I might spoil her innocent reputation, he can only give her popularity. No wonder she'll choose him. After all, she's been crushing on him since always.
When her hazel eyes fixed on me for a moment, I forced myself to look stern and maybe menacing, which is always hard with her, but I managed, in fact she instantly looked away. I barely touched my food, was just trying not to lean over the table and snap my half-brother's neck as he engulfed her in his lies.
Yes, I said half-brother. Nobody knows, it's a secret we've been keeping from everybody, but Kyle and I have the same father. Why the different surname? Simple. My mother gave me her maiden name when the bastard escaped with his secretary, who happens to be Kyle's mother.
I wonder if the man moved here knowing he'd find his ex wife and son. But I don't really care. I don't mope around thinking that not even my damn father wanted me and my mother is always looking at me like I'm a damn waste of life. I don't even care. I'm just used to it.
After a life of hate, you simply get used to it and your heart hardens, to the point that's it's almost cold stone. Yet there's one thing that's kept a feeble ounce of tenderness inside me. Something I've been clawing when everything crumbled down, just to still keep my grip on what I was. Something I have to let go, though, because it's starting to kill me now.
When Natalie yelped, I realized I'd been staring at her, even if absentmindedly, for too long. Most probably I freaked her out. She's scared of me, she's confessed. I scare her because all I ever do is growl and snarl and glare at her every time I see her, she says. I keep my wicked wolf mask on, I say.
Can't have her know she's been tightly gripping my damn heart since 4th grade, can I? Can't tell her that if I know so much about her, it's not because I'm a stalker, but because my eyes are on her much more than she's ever realized.
Can't tell her right now I'd strangle my half-brother with my bare hands just because he's sitting beside her, rejoicing of her smiles and giggles while all I get are frightened looks.
If she was any braver, she'd glare at me for spoiling her moment alone with her crush, but she's too scared to do that. With my reputation, I wouldn't be surprised if she was convinced I could murder her without witnesses as soon as I get the chance.
Funny, huh? She thinks I hate her and would gladly end her while I, in truth, have been loving her with all my fool being since ten years already.
"What time today?" I heard Kyle ask and I came back to reality. He was leaning in towards her, not enough to touch her, but enough for her face to beet crimson. Son of a bitch.
"I-I work today ..." Natalie mumbled in response, as red as a tomato, which made her look even more beautiful, despite it being caused by that jerk. Even though it was his merit, her cheeks getting crimson were what was necessary to make my heart skip a beat.
Why doesn't she realize how amazing she is? She's so self-conscious, never believes in herself. Never had the guts to stand up for herself. She's let Dana kind of bully her till middle school without ever reacting, which is why I intervened, ordering to my ex to quit it if she didn't want to face me.
Back then, Dana and I were nothing to each other, we'd steer clear of each other's path, even though now and then I would catch her staring at me, winking when she got caught. Only two years ago I came to realize what those looks meant. In my defense, by middle school I was in deep with my troubles, and it's when I went through the real metamorphosis, namely, from sort of punk, to teenage criminal. Because I had to. And that's all I can say about it.
Kyle gave her one of his best fake smiles, those smiles that always gain him everybody's favor, as he leaned in more, Natalie's cheeks getting even redder.
Playing with fire, Romano, you're playing with fire. I hissed silently, digging a hole in his head.
He glanced at me for a moment and smirked mischievously. Then stop me. Let's see who she prefers. He seemed to tell me with his eyes.
I guess that because we're half-brothers, we've got this odd ability of silently talking to each other. It's not telekinesis, no, it's just that we can read in each other's eyes what we're saying.
I already knew from the beginning that my father had started a new family and had a son that was of my age, Kyle just found out when our mutual bastard came to one of our soccer matches, in freshman year, back to when I was part of the team too, (before being kicked out of it for so clumsily taking my half-brother's breath away by chucking a ball that hit his poor family jewels) and spotted me.
I guess he instantly recognized me, even though he hadn't seen me since I was barely a year, because his eyes widened, he got pale and prohibited to Kyle to frequent me. Like I could infect his precious son in some way. Sure,because I'm the rotten apple,right? While he is the perfect son our lovely father has always wanted.
I gritted my teeth, trying to hold back my anger the most I could, just not to seriously lean over the table and snap my half-brother's neck. He's only trying to provoke me, I know that, because that's his specialty.
But then ... Natalie giggled as he told her something in her ear and all my self-control flew out of the window, so, unstoppably, I seriously leaned over the table, grabbed him by his collar, and slammed him on the floor, nearly knocking his head.
Times like this, I know my actions only enhance his recital, the one he's been playing since forever, the one where I am the evil boy always causing problems and he ... he's the poor angel that right now was being beaten up by the bad boy for no reason. The bastard didn't even react like he normally does. And I know why ...
"Eric! Eric, stop!" I felt Natalie's hands on my shoulders almost immediately.
That damn son of a bitch. He knew she'd stop me. He knew she'd ... he knew my insides would be churning and my stupid heart would be aching as she looked at me with anger and disappointment brimming in her hazel eyes.
Closing mine, I left, unable to hold her gaze anymore. Damn girl. The power she has over me, nobody has.
"You ok?" I asked Kyle, helping him stand up. He nodded, even if he was bleeding already. I pulled his arm over my shoulder and moved to take him to the infirmary.
Why the hell did Eric go berserk like that? For no reason. Duh, why am I even surprised? He is like that. Evil, wicked ... how could I think there was something good in him? If ever there was, it faded years ago.
Kyle leaned on me, his nose bleeding, his right arm holding his stomach, like he had broken ribs, and I seriously hope he doesn't ...
I should have known they were all right. I was stupid to think there might be something human in him. Rumors about him might be partially invented, but the basis remains. Eric is as bad as they say. There is no room for arguing. How would you explain his going berserk on poor Kyle all of a sudden and for no reason? I can only think of this being his nature. I guess I should learn from the frog that was poisoned by the scorpion she helped cross the river and steer clear of such element.
"It's not the first time, Natalie. Don't worry." Kyle assured me as we walked towards the infirmary. I'm sure it's not the first time. Does Eric just go berserk on him like this often? Duh, right now, if I had him in front of me ...
Oh, just the boy I was looking for. He was at his locker, had just closed it. I'd just left Kyle with the nurse, who said he needed to rest a little, but it was a miracle he had nothing broken except for the nose.
His ribs were kind of fine, just a little bit hurting, and his arm, had Eric twisted it a little more, he'd have broken it like a simple tree branch. When the nurse said all of that I felt such rage inside that I felt like punching something, which is a first for me, because I never get this riled up.
"Eric!" I called, somehow not afraid, not even considering we were alone in the hall. He turned around, and once he spotted me, he rolled his eyes and turned again, adjusting his backpack on his shoulders. But I reached him before he could ditch me.
"What do you want, Watson?" He asked, annoyed.
I crossed my arms, narrowing my eyes at him. "Well, for starters, to know why the hell did you act like that with Kyle."
He turned to me, eyes narrowing as well, but I stood my ground. For once in my life I wasn't afraid. And for the very first time I absolutely didn't fear this menacing bad boy. I guess they were just adrenaline and anger talking.
"Like what?" I gritted my teeth as he asked that, acting as if nothing had happened.
"You beat him for who knows what reason. You could have hurt him bad. He's ..."
"He's only a damn liar. He was acting, Natalie. Acting." My eyes nearly became slits as I narrowed them, my jaw twitching. How can he be so cruel? And I thought all those rumors about him being such a devil were all false!
"You broke his nose. And you could have broken some ribs or worse if I hadn't stopped you."
"Good thing you stopped me then." He scoffed, then walked away, but I wasn't done. No, no. So I reached him and grabbed his arm. Normally I'd be scared, but I was furious with him for doing that to Kyle, so I didn't give a damn anymore.
"You could at least apologize."
"Why should I?"
I let go of his arm but hissed: "Because you've been a freaking idiot! Because you are always uncaring and what if you'd hurt him? What if he was to be hospitalized now? Huh? Why the hell are you so ..."
He turned to me almost robot-like, his jaw tightening. I could feel people around us, who'd just come out of the cafeteria and were walking towards their classes, all frozen in their spots, staring at us, better said, me, the invisible girl nobody knows, the defenseless nerd, shouting at no less than Eric Rivers, without a single worry about her health.
I bet they all thought this was my last day on Earth. For real. Not like the first time I faced him alone just a week ago. Judging from the narrowing of his eyes, the tightening of his jaw and the veins on his neck pulsing, he was seriously mad and if I'd been wiser, I would have known better than keep going.
"So what? Huh? What?" He hissed, anger seeping through him, clearly.
I inhaled deeply before replying, managing not to lose one single bit of that boost of confidence I got from wanting to defend a friend: "So evil."
"I've tried to believe everybody was wrong, Eric. That you weren't really so bad. But ..." Her eyes filled with tears and I cursed myself for being so stupid. Never ever would I want to see her cry, especially not because of something I did. "... but I was wrong, I guess. You're just as bad as people say."
She wiped her tears away with her sleeve. "Now feel free to give me the same treatment you gave Kyle. I don't care." My jaw nearly dropped at that. Did she seriously think I was going to beat her up just for talking to me like that? Did she really see me as such a monster?
"I don't hit girls." I mumbled in defense.
She snorted, regaining some stern attitude. "No, sure. You just beat people for the fun of it."
"Then why did you beat Kyle? What did he do to you?" I gritted my teeth. She was facing me to defend her Kyle. I guess my stunt earlier only spoiled once for all my chances with her, didn't it? I guess it's good. So we can be far enough for me to protect her and ... somehow, forget her before she makes my heart bleed more than she already has.
"That's none of your business." I opted for giving her the coldest answer and look I could, so that I would appear as bad as I should, also considering there were people gaping at us, I guess expecting exactly the wicked wolf they're used to.
They probably even expected me to give her a lesson she wouldn't forget, even though they all know I'm not one to hit girls. But of course, the rumors about me are so many that not all are true,so even what is true might be taken for lie.
Natalie glared at me and my damn heart sank. She hates me. She hates me and for God's sakes, it hurts. For as much as I know I have to be far from her, it still hurts to behold such hatred in her eyes, and all directed at me.
I guess it was better when she barely acknowledged my presence. At least she wouldn't burn my heart like that. I tried not to step back as I beheld real despise in her eyes. All for me.
"He did nothing to you. Just like nobody ever does. You just like being wicked." She accused.
"I don't." That was all I could utter, feeling torn between the show I had to pull off and real me deep inside hurting because I've just lost any chance of being something more than the wicked bad boy to her.
"Doesn't seem like it!" She yelled, clearly furious. I guess that one thing positive about all of this, is that she finally shows her teeth, finally stands up for herself, well, in this case, for her dear Kyle.
"All you ever do is hurt people. All you ever do is being wicked, so I can only assume you like it." She went on rambling.
"I don't. I just ..." I tried to defend myself, but she'd taken the blind anger train apparently, because she didn't even let me finish, while normally she'd be frightened to even say one word to me:
"What? Really need to be that? Why? Because you need to be a badass?"
"Natalie ..." I called, but she stepped back.
"Do not even say my name. I have never said this to anyone, but ..." She inhaled harshly. "Right now I hate you, Eric. For real. I hate you."
If I didn't know what being stabbed feels like, I'd say it feels like this. But this was worse ... her words stung worse than anything I've ever had to endure. She hates me. For real. She hates me. Goddamn, it hurts.
I didn't reply as she stared at me for a long moment, her eyes conveying all that hatred directed at me, all that hatred that was conveyed in a thousand knifes all piercing through my ribs and reaching my weak heart. My jaw twitched and my breathing got heavy as I beheld the concrete loathing in her eyes.
Once she walked away, people around us staring at her, thunderstruck, for she'd just had the guts to face me like that and even the ability to leave me speechless, I swallowed hard, trying to breathe as I could only whisper, so low that nobody heard:
"Fine. Hate me. But I love you, Natalie. For real."