The Angel,The Devil,The Nerd

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Chapter 35 - The Place

CHAPTER 35 - THE PLACE

NATALIE'S POV

When I asked Sophie to get off earlier, she obviously inquired as to why, so I had to admit that my boyfriend wanted to take me somewhere, to which she gleefully told me I may as well take all the rest of the afternoon off, so that I could get changed and be ready for whatever my sweetheart had in mind. Useless to say I blushed at that. I picked up on her generosity and headed home, texting Aisha to ask her to come over and maybe help me pick something nice to wear. Of course she immediately agreed.

Eric didn't say where he would take me, whether I had to be casual or elegant or whatever, so I just decided I'd opt for something comfy but also nice. Obviously rejecting everything that Aisha suggested that was more than five inches above my knees, aka, everything that showed too much of my skin. It's true that our weather, even being the beginning of February, is pretty pleasant, I mean, not warm but neither too cold, but neither was I willing to show off my skin so willy-nilly. As mom keeps on telling me, he's gonna have to wait to see something more than arms and more than peek at my cleavage.

Was it for her, he'd have to wait years, but I'm just waiting for the right moment. I am not ready. For as much as I do feel attracted to Eric, as that dream I had clearly demonstrates, that doesn't mean I am ready to take such a huge step. That moment will come. Just ... not so soon. Honestly, I also want to be sure of what we are before just giving up my virginity to him, which he'll ... have, I think. I mean, I am not ready but I have ... sort of ... thought of doing it with him. Maybe because he's my boyfriend and as naïve as it sounds, I do hope we'll last more than two weeks, or maybe because I really do feel attracted to him, but ... yeah, when he holds me part of me does drift to that sinful thought.

Mom was still at work when I came back home, but before taking a shower I texted her to ask if I could go out tonight and she asked why, so I explained and she wasn't too sure, because it's just Monday and tomorrow there's school, but I assured her that I wouldn't cut classes, no matter how late we were, and she objected that I was to be home by midnight anyway. Deal.

When Aisha arrived, we started going through every single piece of clothing there was in my wardrobe, but of course, we found nothing, and she forced me to promise we'd go shopping on Friday because it was "absolutely indecent for an 18-years-old cute girl like me to have such a poor wardrobe". I giggled at her statement but she was dead serious, so I had to agree. After all my Friday afternoon is free. Well, I'd really gladly spend it with my boyfriend but ... we can't just be lovebirds all the time, can we?

In the end, I opted for dark blue faded jeans, which were not too loose but neither skinny, and a long blue v-neck pullover that almost looked like a mini dress, black mid-calf boots. Aisha suggested I wore just the pullover, because it was enough long to go solo, and indeed it does go solo, as Paula suggested me when she gave me it for my birthday a couple of years ago, but I argued that while not being a giant, I am somewhat tall and considering it reached my mid-thighs ... well, no, thanks. I mean, while I do want to look pretty for Eric, neither do I want to make him blackout just at our ... well, second real date. And again, as prude as it sounds, he's not gonna see anything he shouldn't before due time. Besides, I'd never feel comfortable with things that expose my skin so willy-nilly.

Aisha wanted to adjust my hair at least, especially when I refused to wear makeup (except for some Chapstick and powder that would make me look a little less pale) and I even kept my glasses, so she curled my straight hair, but just enough to let it be only wavy, my fringe falling on one side but being enough long to be tucked behind my ear. Overall, when I looked at myself in the mirror I felt ... ok. Not drop dead gorgeous, like I'll never be, but ... ok. It was a casual attire, very different from the one I wore for our first date, but considering I had no idea where would he take me, it was perfect, I think.

Considering we're dating in secret, I avoided the anxiety of him coming to knock on my door, which I felt at the first date, even though, I was expecting Kyle, not him. When I saw him at my door last Friday, I was shocked, to say the least. I still felt the aftereffects of our breathtaking kiss and the hickey Aisha hid underneath her foulard was still there as a reminder, so when I saw him there, looking pretty flustered too, I had no idea how to react. Lucky thing he started talking first.

Now, the park we agreed to meet at was pretty much across from Sophie's, therefore just ten minutes by foot from my place, so I could just walk there, but Aisha opposed resistance, saying I had to be as fresh as a daisy when I arrived, not tired already, and the perfume she'd had me put on had to last. It was an enhancement of my usual vanilla and raspberry, which, apparently, Eric really likes, considering he's always practically sniffing me when he holds me ... which I find cute and funny actually. Not creepy, because I slyly do the same with him and his natural manly scent mixed with cologne of I have no idea what fragrance.

Once at the park, I saluted Aisha, promising, as she demanded, to give her all the details tomorrow, and I sat down on a bench, just reading, mostly because I was in advance. There wasn't really anybody, after all it was already kind of dark, but I wasn't afraid. I was pretty taken by my book anyway, so much that I barely heard my phone ringing by exactly 7 pm.

"Yes?" I answered distractedly, still skimming the last lines of the chapter, without having even read the ID, and I could hear a light boyish chuckle from the other side.

"Your lift is here, Miss Watson." That husky bass filled my ears, making me smile.

"I'm sorry, who is this?" I asked, playing dumb, pretending not to have recognized him, and he chuckled, which was my purpose.

"It's that silly boy who's even cleaned his car for you today." He responded, so it was my time to chuckle, hearing him grin as well.

"Oh, so it's safe now? I can step on it without fearing cholera?"

"Mmh ... I only protected it against rabies, can't promise about cholera. But it smells of fresh pines, if that makes any difference."

I giggled, shaking my head at how silly he could be sometimes ... just with me. "I guess I might give it a try."

"Lucky me. Now, would my princess do me the favor of making herself visible to the human eye? I know a unique creature like her tends to stay hidden from the vulgar plebs that plagues this world, but I promise her a pleasant night if she gives me a chance."

I giggled even more at that. Just how cutely silly he can get? It's incredible how can he so easily shift from menacing bad boy to adorable boyfriend that only makes me smile and laugh and giggle all the time. And every time I remind myself that he's like that with me only, I can't help but grin, proudly even.

Standing up, I turned around and smiled when I spotted the familiar bluish Jeep just outside the park, right in front of me. I was about to wave at him, but then I remembered that we're still a secret couple, so I chewed on my bottom lip, thinking of a way to attract his attention but without being open about it.

"Just turn around. I'm right behind you." I said in the end.

Eric was on the other side of the car, so he had to move towards the hood to see me, but when he did, even from afar I could see his wide smile, which I couldn't help but mirror, even blushing a little, because he seemed so happy to see me that it felt even unreal. We remained silent for a brief moment as we locked gazes from afar, but eventually Eric spoke: "Are you waiting for me to come pick you up bridal style?"

I chuckled as he asked that, shaking my head. "No, I'm just ... evaluating if being seen stepping in your car might ... well, blow our secrecy thing."

As I said that, Eric remained silent for a moment and I wondered if I hadn't said the wrong thing and now he was cross with me, so I remained there tormenting my bottom lip for a moment, but finally he spoke: "There's nobody. Just ... come here." He sounded a bit strained, but overall just anxious to see me, so I just nodded, agreeing, then, once I hung up, I reached him, directly stepping in his car since he was already on his seat.

Just as I'd buckled my seatbelt, Eric drove off, but something told me he'd kind of lost his good mood. I wanted to say something to cheer him up, maybe apologize if it was my fault, but nothing came to my mind, so we just remained silent. For a few miles at least. Till I mustered the courage to speak up, therefore, clearing my throat: "Um ... Eric, I ..."

"I'm fine." He cut me off, as if he'd sensed what I was about to say. "I just ... I'm just tired of hiding, that's all."

"Well, then we can ..." He shook his head, though. I swallowed, both my saliva and my words, and fixed my eyes on my lap as he kept driving, towards where, I have no idea.

Glancing at me from the corner of his eyes, Eric sighed. "I'm sorry, baby, I just ... it's better for us to lay low for a while."

"I know, but ..."

"It's for your own good, believe me. It's ..."

"Your reputation? You think that if people see me hanging out with you, then I'll be ... compromised? I mean, my reputation might get compromised?"

Eric glanced at me for a brief moment, something odd reverberating in his blue eyes, not sure if it was positive or not, then he turned to the road, and when he spoke he sounded a little odd, but sincere: "Yeah, it's that." He sighed. "I am no saint, Tallie, I ..."

My ears burned at the nickname, my heart skipping a beat. "What ... what did you just call me?"

Eric blinked his eyes, clearly confused, as he glanced back at me, to which I unconsciously smiled, finding him just too cute, and like domino, he smiled too, turning to the road again. "Tallie. I find it cute. Just like you, princess." He told me, tenderness reverberating not just in his smile but also in his voice. "You don't like it?"

"Yes!" I exclaimed before I could retain myself and he chuckled, clearly amused. I was a little embarrassed, but in the end I grinned like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. "I like it. Very much so."

Eric smiled sweetly, glancing at me for a moment. "Good. Then that's what I'm gonna call you."

"Along with princess and baby?" Maybe I sounded a little needy or childish, but who cares. I like all of those nicknames he uses for me. Eric laughed a little, the deep and yet boyish sound resonating in my ears and sending odd vibrations to my heart, which had me wonder, if, after all, even if so quickly, I wasn't ...

"Yeah, along with those. You like them?"

I smiled widely. "I like whatever nickname you give me." I admitted, maybe a little cheesy, but keeping my happy smile, so that when Eric glanced at me, a little surprised, he gave me a really sweet and tender smile that melted my heart, even more at the feeling that, as he pressed his lips for a moment, he seemed to be holding back something, but ... something good. Something I don't want to think about because it'd be insane. Just because he's been liking me since so long, doesn't mean that he ... taking advantage of him glancing back at the road, I shook my head to erase those thoughts, turning to the window to distract myself.

Watching the streets move past us as Eric drove us who knows where, I relaxed, kind of mesmerized by all those lights that were just lighting up. Too bad we can't see the real natural lights because the artificial ones hide them. Leaning my head on the window, I felt myself smiling as I glanced at my boyfriend, my heart beating fast at the thought that this gorgeous and charming boy was really ... mine. I mean, he really is my boyfriend. I'm not dreaming. He really wants to stay with me and just me.

Noticing I was sort of staring, Eric gave me a small smile-wink I giggled at, feeling my heart flutter just at that. It's odd, you know. In these weeks I've been feeling different things for him. I went from absolute fear to somewhat liking his company, to even feeling attracted and, eventually, something inside me forced me to admit the truth: I like him. I like Eric. Truly. And I want to be with him. As long as I can. Well, as long as he'll want me at least.

***

I realized I'd been dozing off only when I opened my eyes and we were leaving the lights of the town behind. I glanced at Eric, who looked immensely cute, all serious while driving. I cursed myself for being so foolish to have fallen asleep, leaving him practically alone, but when he glanced at me he smiled tenderly and my heart fluttered first, then my half asleep brain struggled to get a hold of at least one thought that made sense and could be put together in a real sentence, but of course, with such a blinding smile, it was pretty hard to think straight.

"Hey, princess ... slept good?" Eric asked me, humor latched in that voice I didn't recall being so sexy actually.

A bit flustered, I adjusted myself on my seat and sighed, hoping I hadn't ruined Aisha's efforts at making my hair look decent. "Um ... sorry, but I ... well, tend to doze off on long trips in the car." I managed to say.

Eric smiled, shaking his head. "It's ok. You looked cute anyway, so I could at least enjoy the sight." I blushed, now alarmed at the thought of having looked worse than Sid in the Ice Age or something. I mean, did I snore? Normally I don't, but never say never. Did I salivate? Honestly, when deeply asleep sometimes I do. Was my mouth open? Oh, my ... I bet he said I looked cute only not to embarrass me. I wish I had a mirror to check myself out and at least see how bad I looked ...

I flinched when I felt Eric's hand on my thigh and part of me thanked my prudery for not having listened to Aisha and her suggesting not to wear anything under that pullover/mini-dress, but the other cursed that idea because if I had, now I would feel all the warmth of that large hand on my skin and ... oh, but what the heck is with me and these thoughts?

Eric smiled tenderly at me as he spoke, his hand always there on my thigh: "You looked as peaceful as a baby and as impeccable as a real princess." He told me.

I unconsciously snorted, rolling my eyes. "Fake princesses are perfect when they sleep. Anna was a mess. Like normal girls."

Eric frowned, but chuckling as he asked: "Who?"

I kind of blushed at my childishness, but also enjoyed seeing his handsome face lit up with cheerfulness. "Frozen. You haven't seen it?" I explained, trying hard to calm down my heart before it exploded for the too fast racing. Eric looked at me funny and I couldn't help but giggle as I stated: "Ok, first movie we're watching it's Frozen. Definitely."

He rolled his eyes, but clearly amused, as he grumbled: "Gee, not even five days that we're a couple and you already force me to watch chick flicks?"

This time I rolled my eyes as I retorted: "Frozen is not a chick flick. It's Disney. Where do you live? All world knows it."

"Yeah, I happen to live beyond TV and Internet, you know. And I hate Disney."

I chuckled. "Well, it will surprise you, but neither am I a fan of those movies. Frozen is different, though."

We kept on bantering for a while, till, sadly, he retrieved his hand from my thigh as he had to change gear, and I glanced back out of the window. It was completely dark now and we were clearly leaving the town, so, ignoring, well, trying to ignore my heart skipping a beat when his hand, as if it was natural, returned on my thigh, I glanced at Eric as I asked: "Where are we going exactly?" He smirked, but didn't reply, so I kept going: "Does my mother know you're kidnapping me?"

"No worries. I've sent her a ransom request already."

"Oh, and how much do I cost?"

He smirked. "I asked for three days at least, but she only gave me one night. So I guess that's it."

I furrowed my eyebrows together, confused. "Normally one asks for money." I argued, but he simply shrugged.

"I'm a different kind of abductor."

"What kind of abductor asks for days instead of money?"

"The kind that more than money needs your company." I gulped at that, trying hard not to blush, and he smirked, knowing the effect he'd had on me.

Seriously, it's like this boy I'm dating is the complete opposite to the one I knew by rumors and the one people steer clear of. He is, in everything, exactly how I pictured that lovely boy of 4th grade would become once grown up, how I would have wanted him to grow up, hadn't he taken a detour for bad boy-land.

"Come on, Eric, where are you taking me?" I asked once I was able to be back to normal, well, sort of normal, I mean, the sort of normal where I'm not swooning for my boyfriend and his charming looks and attitude.

By the way, he was wearing a pair of dark blue faded jeans that almost resembled mine, a slightly lighter blue dress-shirt tucked in his pants, sleeves up to his forearms, which makes me wonder how couldn't I notice it earlier ... he looked hot! Damn hot! But I did my best to ignore that and focus on the question I'd asked, to which he simply replied: "Somewhere."

"Where?" I insisted and he tried hard to keep the chuckle that wanted to erupt as he responded: "Somewhere where, where is somewhere."

I giggled. "That doesn't make any sense."

He simply shrugged, clearly amused. When, once I was able to return serious, I reiterated the question, he chuckled openly as he spoke: "Ok, just trust me, Natalie. Will you?" Well, that was a blow below the belt. I couldn't say no to that if I didn't want to offend him, neither could I keep asking if I admitted I trusted him, so I just sighed, a bit frustrated, and Eric gave me one of his sweet smiles that made my heart melt and my knees turn jelly, which would have had me fainting if I hadn't been sitting. By the way, his hand was still on my thigh.

"This place I'm taking you ... it's a little out of town." He explained. I frowned, confused, and he chuckled, so I just resigned. I guess I'll find out once we're there, even though curiosity was killing me.

"May I turn on the radio at least?" I asked, wanting to listen to something, not because the silence between us was awkward or I didn't want to talk to him, I just ... wanted to listen to some tunes that would relieve my overworking mind that was bringing me to thoughts a little bit too dangerous to have after not even a week of relationship, namely, things regarding my feelings. Like ... I like him, I know I like him, but ... do I more than like him? Could I more than like him? Does he or could he ever more than just like me?

"Tell me the station and I set it." Eric replied and I pouted, crossing my arms, although purposely overreacting a little.

"Oh, come on, I know how a radio works."

"Maybe. But I don't want your girly hands on my Betsy."

I couldn't help but laugh at that, scoffing: "Seriously? You gave a name to your car?"

He shrugged. "Many people do that."

"Many crazy people do that." I corrected and he chuckled lightly, which had me try hard not to swoon but I did smile like an idiot.

"Betsy is mine in every sense. I bought it with my savings, money I earned working, so I'm pretty fond of her. Nobody touches her without my permission." He explained. I rolled my eyes. Boys ...

"I wonder ... do I have to compete with her too?" I blurted out without thinking, but regretted it when Eric glanced at me from the corner of his eyes, pretty serious when he replied calmly:

"No one and nothing competes with you, Tallie. You're my princess, remember?" My heart skipped a beat and I blushed, lowering my glance to conceal it, which forced me to remain silent for a few moments as an awkward silence filled the car, but he eventually broke it:

"I also gave a name to my motorcycle if you wanna know."

I couldn't help but snort. "A motorcycle. Of course. Mr. Bad Boy owns a motorcycle. How cliché. Do you smoke and wear white flannel t-shirts with rotten jeans too?"

Eric chuckled, shaking his head. "Nope, I can't stand the smell of cigarettes and flannel actually is itchy for my delicate skin, but yeah, I do have some pairs of rotten jeans." Obviously, I laughed as he said that. It felt good to be bantering with him. Eric laughed as well and we did just that, till it died down and silence filled the car again.

"How long will it take?" I asked after a moment, sneakily avoiding to ask where was he taking me. Eric smirked, probably reading through my attempt, but didn't reply. I felt the car come to a stop, though.

"Arrived." He announced, giving me a small smile that sent my heart vibrating.

I looked outside, trying to ignore the butterflies fluttering in my stomach. "Arrived where?" I asked, not being able to see anything, considering it was already pretty dark, the only light coming from the car.

Eric half smiled, unfastening his belt as he spoke: "You'll see." I followed his movements and we both stepped out. I could smell nature, real nature, there was a gentle wind caressing my skin and I could hear, not too far, the faint sound of water, so there was a river somewhere nearby. I flinched when Eric grabbed my hand, entangling my fingers in his, but then I let myself go to that tingly sensation of our hands together.

He pulled my hand and made me follow him, I wanted to ask where was he taking me, but I couldn't, of course, having to act on my trustfulness of him, which I had, really, but it was still an unknown place at night, which agitated me a little if you allow me. Even though, with Eric right there holding my hand, I felt a little safer, well, enough not to have my heart pumping as I thought of how many things could kill me there.

We walked into what looked like woods, and I think I know them, I mean, there's this quiet place something like an hour drive from our town, mom and I used to come here when uncle Peter came to visit us, because he likes fishing and, considering that by then he wasn't married, he had no son to teach, so he tried with me, but I was horrified at the thought of capturing poor fishes that were swimming so quietly, so horrified that every time, after we came here, I would throw up when mom would present me fish for dinner, so in the end uncle Peter quit taking me fishing and we just had picnics and wandered around here.

"Eric ..." I called when I heard suspicious movements from the bushes. We'd been walking for five minutes at least and he'd been silent all the time, just dragging me where he wanted, considering I couldn't see a thing and I wonder how could he, helping me avoid any kind of hindrance.

"Keep calm, princess. It's everything alright."

"Said he before being eaten by a bear ..." I argued sarcastically and he chuckled.

"There are no bears here. Well, not that I know." I squeezed his hand, actually in fear, and he half smiled, pulling me closer to him, actually wrapping an arm around my waist, leaving my hand, but just for a moment, because then he entangled my fingers in his again, which had me feel ... warm and safe somehow, well, sort of.

"Don't worry, I'll protect you if anything shows up." Eric assured me, squeezing me against his side. For some reason I felt relieved just at that. Like ... only knowing that he's there to protect me would save me from anything. To think that only a few weeks ago I was frightened at the mere thought of remaining alone with him ...

When we stepped on something like a bridge, quite unstable even, I better gripped Eric and he held me closer, whispering that it was everything alright. Lucky thing I don't fear heights.

Eventually, Eric stopped. I could barely see what was around us, but I could recognize a secluded glade that was very well hidden by trees and bushes and everything, kind of round, illuminated right in the middle, which was odd, but when I looked up I realized that the open space in between trees let in the shiny rays of the full moon and it made everything ... magical, so much that I couldn't help but awe in admiration.

Eric, beside me, smiled. "This, Tallie, is what I like to call the place." He told me.

I glanced at him, confused. "The place?" I repeated.

He cracked a very sweet smile, which, reverberating in the moonlight, made him look even more charming, therefore sent strange vibrations to my heart, making me feel the need to be closer and closer to him, in fact I unconsciously sought just that, more closeness, so Eric better squeezed me against his side, placing a lingering tender kiss on my temple as he spoke: "I come here when I feel ... let's say overwhelmed."

I tilted my head to the side, confused. "Overwhelmed?" I stupidly repeated.

Eric took a deep breath, squeezing me against his side so much that we were practically glued to each other and, tell you what, I didn't mind one bit, but he wasn't smiling as I expected him to, he looked somewhat troubled and that joyful glint in his eyes had been replaced by a hint of seriousness that kind of agitated me even because I knew he had to tell me something and I truly hoped it wasn't bad ...

"I'm not really good with words, you know that." He started and I unconsciously nodded, even though I sort of wanted to object that when it comes to words, for being a wannabe writer/journalist, I am much, much worse than him, but he went on: "But I wanted to tell you something about me, better said, I thought that, the first step in our relationship could only be letting you in, and ... well, since I couldn't find the words, I thought of showing you something, one of the very, very few things I cherish actually, that's really important to me. Something that means a lot to me."

"T-this place?"

He half smiled and pulled me with him towards a blanket that, only now I noticed, was lain down right in the middle of the place. Eric sat down and lay on his back, patting beside him. "Come here." He told me with a small smile. There was a hint of assertiveness in his voice, but his tone was gentle so I complied.

I found myself awing when I realized that from there we could see the sky perfectly, the full moon was right above us, so many stars around her I couldn't even count, and with the trees being some sort of frame to it, it was even more breathtaking.

I was sort of startled when Eric pulled me in his arms, but I recovered soon, even though my heart was beating real fast as I leaned my head on his chest, my arm wrapping around his torso just as his was around me, in such a protective and tender and affectionate manner that I felt like fainting just at that. And yet, for how unsettling, because I am not used to it, it felt only right and natural, because, remember, we were simply meant to be. The more I think about it the more I convince myself I'm right. We were meant to be.

"I found this place when I was 15." Eric said, breaking the silence after a few minutes spent only in contemplating the whole breathtaking scene. I looked up at him, feeling eager to listen to everything he apparently felt like sharing. "Whenever I feel like I can't take it anymore, I come here and it ... reinvigorates me." He continued in a sigh, eyes still on that amazing sight. I didn't reply, not really knowing what to say but actually wondering what is it that plagues him so bad. I hope he'll tell me when he feels ready. I hope I'll be able to comfort him in some way. And definitely I hope it's nothing too tough, but if it's that to have led him to become the dreaded bad boy everybody sees him as, then it can't be anything easy to deal with. I'll do my best anyway.

Whatever it is, I want to help him through it if he needs it. Heck, whenever he needs me, I am right here for him. Only now it seems only right and obvious, something inside me telling me I should have been by his side years ago already, I should have been there for him when his life took a detour for the worst and he became what he became. I have no idea why did he and what happened, but if that lovely boy I first saw years ago changed so immensely, it must be something really tough.

Even though, I can see that while that whatever it is has taken a real toll on him, it hasn't spoiled his real self. That real self he was years ago. That real self I'm experiencing now that we're together. That real self only I get to see because with other people he's always the same menacing bad boy.

Eric looked down at me and we locked gazes, my heart fluttering as I beheld those wonderful blue eyes reverberate with a tranquil glint I have barely ever seen, a glint that melted the ice surrounding them along with my heart, so that I was interdicted for a moment, especially as he smiled tenderly at me as he spoke: "I couldn't find any other way to tell you how much I really do want you in my life, Tallie."

I couldn't help but smile at that, my heart still feeling the aftereffects of all that range of emotions he caused me, especially as I beheld how the moonlight illuminated his features, making him even more gorgeous and breathtaking. Unconsciously, I reached for his hand and entangled his fingers in mine. "I get it." I replied lowly, mostly trying not to give away my unnumbered emotions.

"I also get that there is something that plagues you and for as much as I want to know, you don't have to tell me anything you don't want to. Just know that whenever you feel like talking, I'm here." I squeezed his hand, a lump in my throat forming at the mad force with which emotions were hitting me. "Whenever you need me, I'm here." I promised truthfully. And I meant it. Now as ever I realize that I more than want him in my life. I need him to be here beside me. And I want to be there for him as well. Forever if he lets me and wants me to.

Eric smiled, turning on his side to face me, his hand leaving mine only for his arm to wrap completely around me and better pull me in his arms and hug me. That smile had my heart racing, if possible, even faster, because it was truthful, sincere and sweet like only those he reserves to me are. He looked absolutely carefree and I love that.

I love that, with me and only me, he is as carefree as that, but I also hate that he can't be the same all the time, be it because he doesn't feel like it or because he pretends not to be. Maybe if I can manage to give him that sensation of peace more often, I'll be able to say I wasn't completely useless and I did have a meaning in his life. At least that.

"You're amazing, Tallie." Eric told me as he placed a tender kiss on my hair and I giggled, trying hard not to blush, but childishly replying: "Thanks ..."

He mirrored my smile, even though his held more than just joy, it also held something like ... true affection. He cares about me. I know he cares. He told me, remember? He told me that I matter to him. I could spot a joyful glint in his eyes but it was soon clouded with a serious one as he spoke: "Just promise me one thing." His thumb reached my cheek, stroking it. "If I ever screw up, which I most probably will at some point, remember what I tell you now."

Blinking my eyes and swallowing, I nodded, even if unsure of what he meant. Why would he think he'd screw up? Maybe he wasn't sure of our relationship?

Eric better pressed me against him, better squeezing me in his hug, as he vowed: "In this moment, this place, here, lying on my side in front of you, I make you a promise, Natalie." Him using my full name already told me it was serious, so I didn't even feel like blinking my eyes, I just stared at him, anxious to know what he wanted to tell me, especially because he looked so serious ...

"I promise to always be there for you, to support you through the hardest of times, to understand without asking, to never do anything that would upset you, or at least I will do my best not to. I promise to sustain you everywhere, despite everything and everyone, against all odds. I promise to back you up every time you need me to. To ..." He half smiled. "To answer to your calls or texts or rush to your house even in the middle of the night if you ask me to. To protect you from any kind of harm, even, especially, from myself."

He reached for my hand and entangled our fingers, kissing the back of my hand as he spoke: "Whatever happens, if I'll ever do something you'll think you can't forgive me for, just remember I care for you and if you'll ask me to get out of your life, I will, but I'll still come if you need me, wherever you are. I'll always come for you, Tallie." He inhaled deeply, his fingers now grazing my cheek, which had me close my eyes at the tingly and yet soothing feeling I got from it. "I can't promise I won't hurt you, because it might be inevitable, but believe me when I say, I would rather rip my own heart out before hurting you. I will work my hardest to keep you from crying, to keep that charming smile of yours that, I have to say it, all of these years has been the sun ray that lit up my days."

He leaned his forehead on mine and we both closed our eyes for a moment, him pecking my lips. "I promise, Tallie. I promise to be there for you every time you need it, even if ..." I could hear him swallow. "... even if we're not together anymore."

My heart skipped a beat, more than a beat, at that. He just implied we might not ... last. My eyes instantly fluttered open and part of me regretted it, because my heart dropped as I beheld not just the commotion in his eyes, but also real sorrow. As if he thought ... as if the only thought of parting from me hurt him too bad. And if that was true, then I could fully understand, because it hurt me, too, as the lump in my throat reminded me. Parting from him, the tears prickling behind my eyes told me, would hurt. Really hurt.

Which is why I freed my arms to encircle them around his torso, gripping him tight as I hid my face in his chest, to better feel him, yes, but also to hide the tears I was sure I wouldn't be able to hold back for too long. I didn't want him to see me cry, because then he'd feel guilty, and he shouldn't, because while part of those tears were of sadness and hurt at the thought of him parting from me, the biggest part were of happiness, because he was right there with me. And hopefully, he would be for a long, long time.

When I couldn't retain a sniffle, Eric tried to pull back, most probably to look at my face, but I didn't let him. With all my strength I pressed him against me, silently asking him not to leave me. Both physically and figuratively.

He read through my intention, I guess, because he placed a lingering kiss on my hair, letting me rest on his chest as he vowed: "I'm not going anywhere, Tallie. As long it's up to me, you will be right here in my arms, princess."


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