The Angel,The Devil,The Nerd

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Chapter 23 - Somewhat friends

CHAPTER 23 - SOMEWHAT FRIENDS

NATALIE'S POV

"Stop glaring at me like that, Natty. I'm gonna act like I'm not even here." Jamie repeated, amused, for the third time, as I moved towards the hall to go open the door as the bell had just rang and obviously Eric was here.

I've spent the rest of the morning with my best friend and only after lunch, well, more like ... half an hour ago, I got to study a little. After all, I hadn't seen my best friend since ages and we needed to, more than catch up, just hang out a little.

The thought of Eric reproaching me for not being a good pupil and really studying, other than worry me, made me giggle a little.

"I am not glaring. Nobody says you can't say. Just ... be nice, okay? I coaxed.

She awed, shocked, placing a hand on her heart. "Me? How comes, he is the bad element and you ask me to be nice?"

I rolled my eyes, knowing her fake outrage was just mocking. "Eric is not ... uh, forget it." I gave up, then walked to the door.

Mom will be home earlier today, and she knows about Eric coming this time, but simply because I told her Jamie would be here, so she kind of ... calmed down a little, especially when Jamie said her brother would come by 4 pm, so we three would be alone for relatively little. Although, what my best friend omitted to tell my mother is that her brother comes here by 4 pm to pick her up and go to their grandparents', so ... technically, after that, Eric and I will be completely alone ...

"Hey ..." I greeted with a small smile, feeling still a little wary with him, despite the progress. His lips twitched a little, and I know that's the closest to a smile he'll ever give me willingly, so I accepted that. After all, when he isn't able to control himself he does smile sweetly and it's such a lovely sight ...

As he came in, I explained that since my best friend had been here all day, I hadn't had time to exercise much but I'd done my best and ...

"You know, Natalie, I was joking about punishing you if you slacked off." He cut me off, his tone clearly amused, which allowed me to chuckle.

"Yeah, I know, I was just saying ..."

"Hi." Jamie interrupted me as she stood up from the couch, grinning, to greet my guest.

Eric nodded, even though he looked clearly surprised to see her.

"Uh ... Eric, this is my best friend ..."

"Jamie." He filled in and I frowned.

"Oh, you guys know each other?" I asked, confused. My best friend kept grinning as they held a stare contest and Eric looked ... uncomfortable? Why was he?

"Eric." Jamie gritted, arms now crossed, even if still amused, and in her eyes I could see a mischievous glint that normally meant she was up to no good ... "Long time no hear." She said.

Well, ok, that took me off guard. That they know each other, that was odd already, but that they would have enough of a relationship to even hear from each other? What really left me puzzled was Eric's ears beet pink, as he was clearly embarrassed. I looked in between them and eventually realized ... "Oh, I get it. You guys have been together."

His outraged and her amused 'No way!' confused me. Jamie chuckled. "No, Natty, no, we've never had sex." She pointed out, with her usual directness. Eric sighed, going to take his place at the living room table.

"Then how ..."

"It's a long story." Jamie concluded. I frowned. Well, that's suspicious. I don't have the right to inquire on Eric's life, but my best friend ... she burst my eardrums about my not telling her anything and she hid me that ...

I remained there, standing at the living room entrance, looking in between them. He looked annoyed now while she was still amused and I had no idea what was going on.

"Maybe I should go ... I see someone's not really happy to see me ..." Jamie commented, moving towards me.

I instinctively held out a hand to stop her. "What's the matter exactly?" I asked, more directed at her, who grinned.

"I don't think he'd want me to tell you. It's ... family business, you know." She replied, her thumb pointing at Eric behind her at the table.

He cursed. "He is not my family." Eric stated, quite angrily, and I could see his temper flaring.

Jamie spun around, cheerful. "She isn't my family either. Not anymore." My best friend spat, even if calmly, but I know that that's her way to hiss.

Eric rolled his eyes and when those blues landed on me, he sighed. "My stepfather cheated on my mother with hers." He explained, looking at me, but hinting at Jamie, who grinned.

"That's the reason for my parents divorcing, Natty." She added.

"Oh ..." That was all I could utter. I was still confused as to why she didn't tell me, though. I mean, when I asked, she told me she had no idea why did their parents separate, which happened in the middle of our junior year and it's the main reason for her and her father moving in. I guess it's been kept secret, though, because for all I know, Eric's stepfather is well known in town, I mean, he's pretty powerful.

"Well, I guess I'll leave you guys to your date, since ..."

"It's not a date." I blurted out before thinking, cutting off Jamie, who was teasing me, as usual, but this time in front of Eric and it'd be awkward, because he might think she was saying that because I told her something about me possibly liking him, which I obviously don't and ... my heart started racing faster as his eyes landed on me, scrutinizing me with that intense gaze of his.

"Sure, sure ... you like somebody else ..." She muttered, heading towards the hall. "Well, I'll be in your room if you need me. I wouldn't want Mr. Rivers to leave just because he's aggravated with me and my crappy mother." She continued, moving to go upstairs.

"I am not mad at you nor at your mother, Jamie." Eric assured her, even if his tone was slightly pissed. "That's not even the first time he cheats ..." He mumbled, but only I heard him. My best friend simply shrugged and headed definitely downstairs.

Me, trying to regain my control, I walked towards Eric and sat across from him, clearing my throat as I grabbed my Math worksheet to show him what I'd done till then, but his intense gaze made me uncomfortable because I had no idea what was he thinking and I didn't have the guts to ask.

Even though eventually he did focus on Math and we started working on it, all the time I could still feel him observing me, probably pondering over something. I'd give anything to know what, but I couldn't ask without looking either too nosy or too anxious.

This odd thing between me and Eric, it's like walking on fine glass and sometimes, while I know he's not that bad as people describe him, I do hold myself back not to spoil what we have, which is nothing, really nothing, and yet I like it and ... Gee, I'm so confused! I don't like him like that. Despite my odd dream, I do not feel anything for him, but I kind of ... like being around him, well, I do when he's not scary like in school ...

***

ERIC'S POV

I watched her as she worked on the same exercise for the third time. She kept doing everything correct and yet the result kept being wrong, so most probably she was making some distraction mistake. Didn't matter anyway, as selfish as it may sound, the more she did it wrong, the more I could be close to her. With a plausible excuse, that is.

She doesn't even have a clue. And how could she? I've never even tried to approach her. Hell, I've always acted like I never even acknowledged her existence. Till two weeks ago, when fate, via that silly teacher, intervened, giving me this chance to be close to my Natalie, which I know I shouldn't, and in fact in the beginning, against my every need, I still kept her at distance, playing the wicked wolf role, which has been fitting me to a tee since I decided I'd fight back, because being dreaded was better than being pitied. I kept acting like I hated her, but it lasted barely a week, because then we remained completely alone in her living room and I couldn't really play bad boy when she was so cute.

"Eric?" Ah, God help me, her voice is so sweet ...

"Yeah?" I responded, leaning in towards her, taking my eyes off my phone, well, more like acting like I was doing that, because, I mean, you seriously think that, having my Natalie so close to me, I'd keep my gaze on a damn Smartphone other than on such angel?

When only last week she told me she hated me, I felt hurt like barely I ever have and, believe me, the things I've seen are nothing those faint of heart could endure, but then we sort of made up and with the excuse of this surprise Math test I've been giving her lessons.

You can't even imagine how good it feels to remain alone with her for so long. I can't even bring myself to keep on acting like I should, which is why she's seen snippets of what I was, and I really do hope she understands that the real me, at least when it comes to her, it's that. It's not the one that glares at her, acting like he wants to murder her, no, the real me is the one that enjoys bantering with her, teasing her just to she'll show me her lovely pout ...

I know it's wrong. But I can't help it. I need to feel her close.

"Am I doing it right?" She asked, pointing at a particularly tough function, which she's been having problems with. I leaned in more, I'll admit, exploiting this Math tutoring thing to be physically closer to her, in fact, despite the beginning, I was now sitting beside her, our chairs enough close for me to be able to even hug her and, believe me, I have been tempted to do that several times.

"I mean, I know this is right, but this one ... and then the result ..." She groaned, making me want to chuckle, but I kept it, still having to play the bad boy role, or sort of.

Can't have her close, can't deceive her, can't let my damn heart get what it wants because ... because then she'd spoil her life, because then she might be in danger, because I might hurt her ... I can exploit these moments because they are enough innocuous not to bring to anything.

These moments are pleasant and precious to me, but to her are pretty normal, if not cause of anxiety, because she probably still feels kind of wary around me. Part of me would like to exploit these moments to make her fall, to make her feel what I do, but I can't. I can't. Because then I'd hurt her. I know I would. Because it's not dependent on my will. It's something much above me. And I have to keep her far from it. Especially because then she'd be in serious danger.

And yet I can't keep myself so far from her. I have all these years and now I can't take it anymore. She burns my heart every damn time and I can't stand a single minute without seeing her. Jeez, you have no idea how hard it is to act so coldly in school, having to keep myself from going to greet her as soon as she arrives and hug her and kiss her ... because she drives me insane and, truth be told, these afternoons we've spent together, once back home I've had to take a freezing shower, just to calm down my crazy hormones.

When last Saturday I entered her room upon her getting dressed ... I closed the door almost instantly, but I was in time to tell her curves and ... my God, what I'd give to feel those curves in my arms for once! But even only hugging her would freak her out, and I know that if I got to have my arms around her, then I wouldn't be able to hold back and I'd end up claiming those plump lips as mine and ... she'd freak out. I know she would.

So I'm forced to retain myself. Even now. I'm forced to keep myself from caressing her and cradling her and kissing her and holding her close ...

"It's right, yes, but ..." I proceeded to explain her what was she doing wrong, I'll admit, kind of ... exploiting that to be really physically closer to her, to the point that I could almost touch her and my fingers did brush hers, even if only lightly. Yet, sadly, she kind of flinched ...

I guess she still fears me, even if only unconsciously. I kept myself from sighing out of exasperation, trying to act like I didn't notice that, but retrieving my fingers from hers. After all I can't have her, right? I can't be with her unless I want to risk hurting her ...

She resumed her exercises and this time she looked more secure. I could only keep gazing at her, even if trying to be sly, so that she wouldn't notice.

At some point, though, I noticed Jamie hiding behind the living room's door and when we locked gazes she gestured for me to go to her.

"Uh ... Natalie, where's the ... restroom?" I asked, trying to sound as stern as always but polite as well. She looked up from her papers and fixed her beautiful hazel eyes on me, making my heart skip a beat, but I concealed it, like I've learnt to do well in these weeks, just not to let her see ...

"There's one upstairs. I can lead you to it if ..."

"No, I think I can manage."

She nodded without saying anything and went back to her papers. I slyly contemplated her once more before reaching Jamie in the hall. Once we were out of Natalie's sight, her best friend grinned, arms crossed, as she leaned against the wall beneath the staircase.

"What is it?" I asked, already annoyed. This girl and I share a past nobody knows about, a past she believes important, but that to me is just another notch on the belt that represents my stepfather's nth cheating.

He knows I know, but also knows I can't tell my mother because she won't believe me, like she never believed when I mentioned what he used to do when I was little.

"Does she know?" Jamie asked me with a smirk.

I rolled my eyes, sighing. "No." She shook her head. Of course Jamie knows, she came to know when we bumped into each other while inquiring on the cheating, which was a year ago more or less.

"And when will you tell her?" Jamie asked.  I arched an eyebrow at her and she nodded in understanding. "Oh, so you won't tell her at all ..."

I remained still, not really seeing why should all of this even bother her. Yes, she's Natalie's best friend, but that doesn't mean she is allowed to pry into my life.

"Why?" She asked.

"None of your business." I stated, moving to go back to Natalie.

"She needs to know, Eric."Jamie claimed, making me freeze in my spot.

I closed my eyes, inhaling deeply. "What for?" I asked, still giving her my back.

"Well, she might ..."

"What? Reciprocate?" I snorted. "You think I don't know about him? About her feelings? I know, Jamie. I know everything." I know Natalie is head over heels for my half-brother. I know she likes him for real and is so happy that he's giving her attentions. Even though those attentions are all fake.

"It's just a crush." Jamie argued.

"It's been going on since four years already." Four years. For four years I've observed my Natalie eyeing her so perfect crush, never sparing me even a glance. For four years I've hurt myself by witnessing her so quickly falling for that brat. I don't have to tell you how bad it hurt, because it did. Badly. And it still does. Although now I can at least rejoice of her smiles for a couple of hours. At least that. It's enough to keep me going.

When she told me she hated me, it was worse than whatever I've faced, but while she never corrected it, considering she doesn't mind spending time with me alone, I can only guess she doesn't truly hate me. Unless she's just using me, but why would she? And that's not even her. She's too pure to do that.

"Simply because she's never acted on it." Jamie pointed out.

I sighed. "That doesn't change anything." I moved once more as I concluded.

"Eric ..." Jamie called once more. I inhaled deeply, also to keep my temper. I don't like it when people pry into my life, I don't like it when they claim to know everything while they don't. Nobody knows.

To the world I'm just that undisciplined bad boy that everybody fears, to my mother I'm the culprit for her misfortune, to my stepfather I'm a waste of my life, to my own father, who abandoned me to raise his other child, have another family, I'm worthless.

Nobody ever even tried to see past my exterior, well, nobody except for Natalie ... she fears me, I know she does, but these two weeks ... maybe I'm just blind because I need at least her to see that I am something more than just a teen criminal, but she's been acting like she wanted to see past my bad boy mask, like she was seeking something ...

Something I guess she didn't find, because after two weeks she's still afraid I'll hurt her, no matter how many times I reassure her, even if implicitly, that I won't. Not physically. But maybe it's better this way. Maybe it's better if she keeps herself away from me. It's for her best.

"You can't just hide it forever." Jamie argued. I clenched my jaw, knowing she was right, but having to try my way in any case.

"I can and I will."

She huffed, clearly aggravated, but honestly, I couldn't care less. "Natalie is a nice girl. She'll give you everything if you only give her a reason for it. But you can't get close to her and simultaneously hide ..."

"You're losing the point here, Jamie." I cut her off, already irritated at her wanting to teach me how to lead my own life. "I'm not getting close to her." I can't even afford that. She'd be hurt, I'd hate myself for hurting her, she'd hate me for hurting her ... it'd be a pain/hate spiral that would never end and I know she'll be just fine without me, like she has been all her life.

Let's face it, she revolutionized my life, but I never even entered hers and she's been perfectly fine till now, so why should I spoil this state of peace? To satisfy my own selfishness?

"We were and will always remain simply strangers."



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