Chapter 38 - The risks of falling
a/n: let me know what you think :)
"Tallie?" Eric called as he nuzzled my temple.
"Mmh?" He smiled at my half asleep response. Yeah, I was starting to doze off, yes. Not my fault, his rubbing my arm up and down was too soothing and it just conciliated my sleep.
Eric neared my ear and whispered huskily: "I love you."
CHAPTER 38 - THE RISKS OF FALLING
I watched her as she slowly looked up at me, clearly confused. I didn't mean to say it, well, I meant it and I'm glad I could finally let it out, but ... well, honestly, I knew she was half asleep so I was pretty convinced she wouldn't hear me, not entirely anyway.
Turns out she was still awake. She did hear me. She did hear those three magic words and now she was looking at me wide eyed, clearly taken off guard. I said nothing, studying her, just to see whether those words had pleased her or simply freaked her out. I should have shut up, I know I should have, but tonight was so different from the other times we were together and I've been swallowing those words for so long, that now keeping them was only hurting my throat.
What happened tonight, I was honestly flustered, but relieved that she wasn't that freaked out. Honestly, it took me a while to get rid of that little problem, especially as, while in the shower, my perverted mind kept reminding me that that was the exact place where she undressed, where she was completely naked every morning and every night ... that only made my erection harder to get rid of.
Yeah, I know it's not nice to think of such things when it's about one like her, but ... hey, I'm a man, I do have my needs too and she drives me insane. I could add that I've been on short since a while, considering that since I started getting closer to her, I cut it off with one-night-stands, well, I had already, let's just say I cut it off with having fallbacks with my ex ... better?
I've been wanting Natalie for so long, that now it doesn't even seem true that she's right here with me and I am constantly panicking over whether or when will I screw it all up, because I know I will sooner or later, it's second nature for me, because life never goes the way I planned it.
Actually, this blissful period I'm having, with the girl of my dreams finally with me, my dad reaching out to me, a renewed relationship with my brother ... it's so unexpected and so happy that I can't help but think it'll end soon. It's like I'm just a fictional character in some novel and the writer is simply dead set on making my life a living Hell, well, in that case, thanks a bunch, buddy!
I live with the constant feeling that this bliss will soon come to an end. Every time I'm with Natalie I forget all my problems, but then I go back to that place I should call home and I remind myself that all of this is just an illusion. Till that bastard isn't secured behind bars, I can't be completely sure my life won't derail like a mad train again. It did years ago when my so called mother married Robert, I have the feeling it will again.
Or maybe I'm just too pessimistic. Because now I look at my princess and I see a bright future for us. Yes, I should slow down, because she is not used to this, but I will make it work. As long as it's up to me, my princess will have the fairy tale she deserves.
Now, inhaling deeply, I opened my mouth to say something and justify the words I let out just a few moments ago, but honestly, I had no idea what to say, and her not reacting wasn't helping either, because her look was blank, like she thought nothing of it. I would have understood if she'd gone pale, possibly thinking I was rushing too much and she was scared, but she wasn't doing neither saying anything and it made me even more anxious. Yet I had to mend in some way, I didn't want to pressure her, after all, she's only been warming up to me in these weeks, it's completely new for her, and she used to consider me the evilest devil dwelling in this world.
To her, I was the Devil, her lovely Kyle was the Angel. You think I don't know that? Although, to be honest, I only got to know that one time that she forgot her notebook in class and, while taking it to the secretary, where lost objects normally go, I peeped into it and noticed that among girly scribbling her crush's name, she'd also made a comparison: there were two sketches, better said, two sticky figures with initials K.R. and E.R., above one there was, quite elaborately, written Angel, while above the other there was written, as elaborately, Devil. Just a girl sketch, yes, but I perfectly know that in her mind, till a few weeks ago, I've been the incarnation of evil while my brother was some sort of seraphim that owns all good qualities.
So, considering that I was the Devil for her and she was frightened, I can't really expect that in a few weeks she could come to ... feel for me what I feel for her, can I? Yes, she's been telling me and showing me that now she trusts me and has completely changed opinion about me, of which I'm glad, but I've started this thing between us much before, therefore it's not really surprising that while I'm so eager to declare, she is pretty wary about it.
I forced myself to speak, though, just to assure her that she didn't need to reply, I knew she didn't feel the same, at least not yet. Hopefully, she would soon, but now it was too early.
"Tallie, I ... I know it's too soon, but ..." I inhaled deeply, shifting on bed so that we could lay in front of each other, me still keeping her in my arms, but face to face, as I grabbed her hands. Ok, take it or leave it. Time to say it once for all.
"I've been loving you since always, baby, and I couldn't hold it back anymore." I spoke truthfully, trying hard not to give away any uncertainty, even though, my heart was thumping at the thought of her rejecting me because she doesn't and will never feel the same.
I swear, I've never felt so vulnerable in my life and, believe me, I have seen things you could never even fathom, but I guess it's true what they say, we're never as much vulnerable as we are when we are in love. Because our happiness, our wellbeing, even our sanity is in the hands of someone else, and we can never know whether that someone else will one day decide we're not enough and don't need us anymore.
It's only normal to feel scared when in love, right? I mean, I've been in love unrequitedly for years and I could cope with it, well, sort of, because I knew for sure there was no chance for us so I could only get real and live with the certainty that that would never happen, but now ... now I have her here, I have touched her, felt her, and for as much as I've always forced myself to keep my feet on the ground in general, I gotta admit that since she picked me over her crush, I have been hoping that she might feel more for me. Was she to reject me, then I can't deny it would hurt only worse than ever.
Throughout these years, I've always convinced myself that it was an impossible dream, it was utopia to think of being with her, for, one, she was head over heels for my brother, two ... well, this is just between ourselves, I could never imagine she would ever love me, because I've never known what it feels like to have someone that loves you and cares for you. I have my uncle, yes, but he was far, could never be directly there for me and in any case I've been forced to break off contacts with him for a long time since we moved here.
So I honestly have no idea how it feels like to wake up knowing that there is someone out there that thinks of you first thing in the morning, someone you can rely on, someone you can trust blindly, knowing they won't backstab you at the first chance. I have no idea what it feels like to let yourself go, knowing that there is someone that will catch you, and since she started clouding my mind, I started wishing that someone could be Natalie. I started hoping she could look at me with loving eyes other than fear. I hoped she could see past the façade I put up years ago. I hoped she could look at me and see someone ... that can be loved, that it's worth loving, while I've always been brought to think the opposite.
I mean, come on, my mother never wanted me and she's never made a secret of that, my father abandoned me, for a good reason, yes, but only now I know that, the one that should have replaced him has always made a pastime of his to torture me, literally, so, you see, I grew up with the firm belief that I could never be loved. That I was never worth loving.
I know that girls want me, it's no mystery for me, but they don't want me, Eric, they want the bad boy that will make them feel the thrill of breaking their parents rules. I'm pretty sure that, had I let my one-night-stands be around for more than a while, they would have been disappointed, especially when I would quit being the school's terror with them too and started being a very simple boy that's possibly falling for them. In a word, that girls like the jerk, it's pretty true, because I've experimented it firsthand.
Now, had I let my guard down, had I for a moment been able to forget about my unrequited love, or, suppose, had I never met Natalie at all, had I been keen on letting someone in my life, I had the most accurate certainty that that whoever girl would have never loved me. Not just because she loved my reputation and attitude other than me, but because, the way I was raised, I have never thought someone could look at me and see more than an enthralling adventure.
Sounds pathetic, doesn't it? I've just always known that I was not worth loving, and I kept on reminding myself that not to dwell in useless hopes. But now ... now I have the girl of my dreams in my arms and I can't help but dare hope she might see in me something more than the façade.
Because since that stupid project, she's tried to. Since we first approached each other, she's tried to see past my reputation, go past her fear she had of me and be friendly. Sure, my keeping my mask on and being so rude with her and some of my stunts have only made her back away, but when I started being kind with her, she was surprised, yes, maybe sort of freaked out, but not bored, actually, the kinder I was with her, the more she warmed up to me, which has brought me to raising my hopes, even if maybe in vain, and believe that maybe, just ... maybe, someone that could love me after all could exist, that I wasn't such a worthless waste of life, that I could have someone look at me with caring eyes. Just like she does.
And all week, I've lived with this presumption that maybe not now, but soon enough she might reach that point, that delicate point, where she doesn't just care, because I know she does care about me, she's told me that, and even though normally I would laugh at the face of anyone who would tell me that, I believed her when she did, maybe because I wanted to hope, or maybe because I know she'd never lie so cheekily, she'd never play with me or anyone, despite everything. So I know she cares about me, but I am here, hoping I can be lucky enough to say that she doesn't just care, hoping I can seriously let my heart rejoice because, in fact, she loves me.
But ... she wasn't speaking. She remained there, staring blankly at me, not frightened, not outraged. Nothing. There was absolutely nothing in her expression, which made me hope for her to be clearer, even hope for the despise to show on her face ... anything, not just indifference.
Because indifference is worse than hate. If, like she said weeks ago, she hates me, then at least I am something to her, but if to her I'm absolutely indifferent, that means that I could die tomorrow and she couldn't care less. And that hurts worse than rejection, believe me.
Trying to breathe properly, I swallowed the lump forming in my throat, the hurt inside only building up at her silences, and tried to calm my nerves while saying: "It's ... it's ok if you don't feel the same, I ..." Had to swallow once more, pain in my gut starting to make it hard to breathe even. I moved back, just because I couldn't hold that blank gaze anymore.
I bet she didn't have any idea what was she doing to me. I bet that, like always, she wasn't even realizing how painful for me her silences were. Rationally, I know she was simply taking in the whole thing, but emotionally, emotionally something inside kept shouting that I was a fool to think she could love me. Who would love someone like me? I am a lost cause. There is nothing inside me that is worth loving.
Staring at the ceiling, I tried hard to man up and keep control of my emotions, but the truth is, I am never so weak as I am when it comes to her. When it comes to my Natalie I'm only a lovesick puppy that's been trying his best to give her a reason to stick with me. But telling her such things after only a week of relationship was a huge hazard. Despite everything, despite her promises and what we've shared only last Monday, it's not set in stone that she might love me.
You see? That's the worst side of hope. Till you can't even believe it might happen, you let your heart rest at peace, but give that muscle even the tiniest bit of hope, and it will live up to it till it consumes it. One thing is to live knowing it will never change, the other is believing, even if for a moment, that instead something might happen. One thing was watching her live her life from afar, knowing I could never enter it, the other is actually getting so close to her that I start hoping she might reciprocate. It hurts only worse. But at least I know she wouldn't trifle with my feelings only to purposely hurt me.
I am human too, you know. I know people might be stunned, but I am human just like all of you and if there is one weak point I have, that's my love for her. It's what might take me higher than ever, what has given me a reason to keep on fighting and never back down, but it might also break me. Because, believe it or not, girls, we guys too have feelings, bad boys to have a heart and that heart might be just a little more resistant than others, but it gets broken too.
Staring at the ceiling, I tried my best to speak, just not to let her see how much her silences hurt me. "I know I shouldn't have told you. Not right now anyway. But I couldn't keep it anymore." I sighed, closing my eyes. How do they say? In for a penny, in for a pound. If it has to be broken, then let's shatter it completely, but for a good reason. Might as well be pathetic and tell the whole truth, I guess:
"I love you for real, Natalie. I have been loving you since that day in fourth grade." I started, a bittersweet smile making its way to my lips as I reminisced. "You probably don't even remember it, but I do. It's been stuck in my mind since then. I had just moved in, felt disoriented, missed my home, but your smile gave me hope. Your smile made me believe I could move on to a new bright life."
That was a false hope, one of those that only break your moral, but it did give me strength. By then my stepfather hadn't shown his true colors yet so I was only hoping for a better future and her smile gave me the go for it. Well, mostly, in my childish mind, it was the very simple hope of becoming friends with that cute little girl and not be so lonely anymore.
Believe it or not, back then I was a little shy in my beginnings, so while I tried to give myself courage and approach that little girl, I never could, then everything crumbled down and while I kept on surviving in the hopes that maybe someday my life would get better, thanks to her, I also kept myself far from her because I didn't want to involve her.
"You've been owning my heart since forever and I have no doubt you always will." I might die tomorrow or in a hundred years, but till I exhale my last breath, she will be the one and only owner of my heart, of that I'm sure. Hell, if I'd been able to forget her, I would have moved on years ago instead of sticking with one-night-stands. Even Dana, she was more like a way to forget Natalie. Although I do admit that the girl does have some effect on me, be it only because I know her better than her own friends and everyone.
I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. "It's ok if you don't ..." It's ok if you don't love me back, if you don't and will never feel what I do. It's perfectly ok. I have lived with that certainty till now, I can keep going. More brokenhearted, yes, but I guess that that's my fate.
After all, maybe it's better for her. She deserves much better than one like me. She deserves only the best. Someone that will take care of her and cherish her and protect her without ever abandoning her. Not one like me that might endanger her too.
Just because my stepfather doesn't know yet, doesn't mean it'll always be safe for us. If he knows she's involved in my life, he will use her against me, like he would have tried to use Dana if I hadn't been honest by saying she was no more than a toy for me.
Even though, that's not entirely true either. I may not love Dana, but I do care about her. Enough to know that being harsh with her is the only way to make her pride emerge and give up on her feelings for me. Hell, I know what she feels. I know both sides of it. Because it's exactly what I feel for Natalie.
She confessed. Dana, I mean. Last time we were together, she finally confessed she's in love with me. I would have wanted to be kind and explain the situation, although she knows it already, but one like her, she would see it as disrespect only and it would be harder to digest, therefore, when she told me, I simply and rudely got up from her bed, got dressed and left, saying I didn't give a damn about her feelings, she was and always had been no more than a toy for me.
She knew I lied, if not entirely, at least partly, but she also knew it was for her best. You see, my ex isn't the bitch everybody sees her as. Well, not entirely. Oh, believe me, when she's against you, nothing can save you, but in truth, she's just as vulnerable as we all are. Well, at least in my arms, she was.
Now, Natalie. I bit back the rest of those words because it pained me to even voice them. Knowing it is one thing, saying it? A whole different animal. I just inhaled deeply and concluded in a sigh, still staring at the ceiling because I couldn't make myself look into those eyes that right now held nothing but indifference: "Whether you love me back or not, Natalie, I, as long as I live, will love you with all my heart."
Silence reigned for one long minute. One excruciatingly painful minute that had me hold my breath to keep at least a bit of control while she was there, indifferent.
I'd decided I'd stand up and leave, trying to keep some dignity at least, but just as I'd made up my mind, Natalie moved and wrapped her arms around my torso, raising her chin to meet my lips and kiss me, taking me completely off guard, especially as she moved to straddle me, better said, be on me and hug me completely, her head on my chest.
Honestly, I had no idea what to think, but then she spoke, with her soft voice so close to my ears: "I don't feel those things, Eric. Not yet. But I will. I know I will get to that." She raised her head to look into my eyes and smile. "I cannot explain it exactly, but I feel something deep for you. And right now I don't know what it is, but it might become ... that thing. Because you have been giving me so many emotions and so various that it's hard to keep count of every change. Just know that I do want to be with you. Seriously. And I want to feel those things for you too."
Only when she smiled more openly I realized she had tears in her eyes and I opened my mouth to argue that she didn't have to be sorry for me, those words were enough, her promise was enough for me to hope, but she shook her head and cupped my cheeks in her hands, pecking my lips. "I wanna say thank you, but it would sound rude and maybe even scoffing, because that's not what you'd respond to someone that's just told you those things. I wanna say it back, but it wouldn't be true. Not right now anyway. But ..." She inhaled deeply. "I am falling for you, Eric. Finally I know I am. And it's quick and it scares me, but I know I can rely on you and my fall won't hurt. Not when it's with you."
She grinned, her hazels staring so directly into my blues that I almost felt soul-naked in front of her. Well, I'd just offered her my heart on a silver plate, after all. I was completely bared to her. It's like she had a sharp knife pointed exactly at my chest, one little push and it would pierce through my ribs and heart, killing me.
Believe me when I say, I know exactly what it feels like to have a sharp blade cut through your flesh, but it's nothing compared to the feeling of baring your heart and soul to someone that might not give a damn about them.
Natalie instead, she scared the living hell out of me with her silences, but only now I realized she wasn't indifferent to my words, she was just lost in her own world, pondering, and if that's the outcome, then thank God, I'm happy she did reflect on it.
She kept grinning like a Cheshire cat, her hands still cupping my cheeks, her eyes still piercing through my bared soul. And when she spoke, I felt my heart melting into a puddle: "There are risks to falling. And I've always feared it. But ... I am not scared with you. I am not afraid of falling when it's for you, Eric."
When I woke up, I unconsciously better hugged my pillow, like I always do, trying to delay the moment I'll get up, but this time it felt different. This particular pillow was hard and yet comfortable, like no other one could ever be. When I squeezed it, I heard a low yelp followed by a chuckle, which made me frown. What kind of pillow does that?
But then I felt something nuzzling my cheek as a low, husky voice spoke into my ear: "Good morning, princess." My eyes fluttered open and my heart skipped a beat at the realization, but as I tilted my head up, my lips were soon covered with familiar ones, which made me smile throughout the kiss and grip my unusual pillow better, causing him to chuckle and break the kiss.
"Good thing I'm not so easy to break. Had I been just a little less brawny, with your squeezing me, you would have broken some of my ribs already." Eric mocked me and I simply stuck out my tongue to him, which made him laugh and I remained there smiling like an idiot, enjoying the sight. Especially as I recalled last night.
My ... it was supposed to be just pizza and movie and yet so many things happened! I've always thought that, was he to confess such things before I was ready, I would have freaked out, instead, I was only happy to hear it. Yes, it took me a while to cope with it and I remained silent for long, in fact Eric seemed worried and his voice as he spoke to me was pretty shaky and vulnerable. I honestly wanted to interrupt him already when he rhetorically asked if I remembered our very first meeting, but he went on and with all those words I had to take in, it became hard to put together my own response.
When he concluded, looking so defeated, I could only woman up a little and tell the whole truth. That I don't love him, not yet, but I am falling for him. Pretty hard too. All of these feelings are hitting me at such a mad force that it's hard to keep track, but among everything, it's inevitable not to spot real affection.
Hearing those words from him melted my heart, completely. I mean, it's hard these days to find someone that not only feels those things for you, but also finds the words and the courage to express it so beautifully. And to know that he's been loving me since always! Yes, at first he did tell me that he'd been liking me since long, but to now know that he's been being in love with me for so long!
Well, I've always thought the risks of falling weren't worth trying, maybe because for years I've been so fixated on my crush for Kyle, but now Eric ... it seems all so normal and while normally the risks would be hard to take, with him they are easily overwhelmed.
I can entrust him with my heart and soul and body and life. I can trust Eric blindly, therefore seems only legit that I am willing to overcome fears and embrace this foolish fall. Because I know he'll be there to catch me before I can hurt myself.
It's like that trust experiment, the one where you let yourself fall on your back without anything that could soften your fall and you have to blindly trust the one behind you to stretch their arms and catch you. Well, I have the absolute certainty that if,no,when I do fall, Eric will catch me.
Now, I don't know when exactly did we fall asleep last night, I just remember that once I'd explained all of that, we let ourselves go to innocent and yet intense kisses and caresses and before I knew it, I was dozing off in his arms, his husky voice tenderly whispering in my ears "sweet dreams, princess. I love you." Now, how can one sleep badly when the last thing she hears is that? And when that same someone is falling asleep in the arms of such a perfect boyfriend that wakes her up with his sexy and yet adorable voice? In fact, I slept as good as ever.
When he finished laughing, I claimed his lips as mine once more, my arms now moving to be around his shoulders as his moved around my waist. We were so lost in that kiss that the whole world disappeared, which is why, when I heard someone clearing their throat, my heart reached my throat, already knowing who it was and that I was in very much trouble ...
As I broke our kiss, I turned around, even if still remaining in Eric's arms, only to be welcomed by a very familiar sight, even though I've never seen her this aggravated ... "Not exactly how I planned on meeting my daughter's boyfriend for the first time, but ... hello, Eric. I'm Penelope. I suppose you and I need to have a little talk, my dear boy."