The Angel,The Devil,The Nerd

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Chapter 56 - I Will Always Love You

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CHAPTER 56 - I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU

ERIC'S POV

I would have punched the wall, shot at something, even destroyed the room ... hadn't my princess been so peacefully sleeping in that same bed I just had to leave.

Last night, well, more like a few hours ago, I should have pulled back, I should have listened to Heather and leave, but ... I didn't. And when after all those words Natalie kissed me one last time, my control just flew out of the window and all I could think of was that I needed more, more and more of her ... that's why I led her to the hotel room Heather and I shared and ... well, you know ... it felt like being reborn again after three years. Not that I haven't been doing it since three years, but ... with Natalie it's always different. I guess it's because while with other girls it's just sex, with her it's ... well, love.

Passing a hand over my face, I gathered the rest of my clothes and quickly got dressed. I hate doing this with her. It's a damn routine for me, it has been since years, but her ... I should be on bed with her, cuddling her, not running away while she's sleeping, like the worst criminal. Well, technically I am a criminal.

I'd like to think I'll be able to quit this damn job soon, but let's face it, with all I've done and with all the enemies I've made and the things I know, the strings I've attached ... the only way I'll be able to quit is in a coffin. Just like so many other people. Just like my former partner.

Once ready, I glanced at her one last time. She looked so peaceful and so gorgeous ... that damn man that was with her yesterday is so incredibly lucky and he doesn't even know it. I hope for his own good that he treats her well, because otherwise ... my God, she's so incredible, so special, so ... everything!

Three years and she is still breathtaking. Her smile can still make my heart race, her eyes still capture me, her lips intoxicate me, her curves drive me insane ... and her voice ... so sweet ... Damn ...

I watched her sleep peacefully, hugging the pillow, possibly convinced it was me, the white sheets covering her nudity. At least we had one last time together. At least that.

But this was a farewell. A definite and unmerciful farewell. I gotta even quit tracking her and everything. Both because it's not good for my own heart and because I guess that till I keep an eye on her, enemies will know I have a weak point and it's obvious that they'll seek her first of all.

They quit going after Kyle and my dad only when I cut contacts with them completely, well, I think that's why they did. Now Natalie ... for years I've kept myself away from her to protect her, and now I need to do the same. The only difference how worse it hurts. For both.

I keep thinking that, had I let her be three years ago, had I let her believe I was just as bad as everybody said, maybe now she'd really have a better life. Other than not even being able to smile fully as she once used to. Other than being nude in a hotel room in Paris, having just cheated on her boyfriend.

Yeah, this one too. I've made of her a cheater! Jeez, since the beginning, since I entered it, I've only fucked up her life. Because I was selfish. Because I needed to be close to her. I needed her to love me just as much as I loved her. I needed her to look at me and see I wasn't the devil everybody saw me as. I needed her to see I did have a good side. I needed her love.

Before her, I never knew what being loved meant. Sure, I had my uncle, but that was a different kind of love and it was far away. But Natalie ... she gave me the love I never thought I could ever have or even deserve. She showed me how it truly feels to have someone that smiles so brightly just as she looks at you. someone that believes in you, someone that doesn't stop at appearances and rumors but is even willing to stand up for you more than for herself.

Someone that defends you with all your might just because people say bad things about you ... because that's what she did when our love was known. People murmured things about me when she walked through the corridors, things they would have never dared say when I was in range of years, but it was easier to discuss it when it was just my girlfriend, or, better said, "the nth notch on his belt", as they liked to call her.

For our peers and everybody she was just the nth doll I played with, which was a little Dana's fault too, because she was the first one to say I was with Natalie only to get in her pants. After all, it was as simple as that, according to them: I had a player reputation, was a criminal, dangerous, and she was the invisible girl, the goody-two-shoes ... since when bad boys fall in love with that kind of girls? Only in romances, right?

My ... let's say pals, Floyd and Dominic even dared say they couldn't recognize me, I was a whole different guy since I dated Natalie. Floyd went pale when, at his asking if "the nerd was really that good in bed that I was willing to do the boyfriend to have more" I shot him such a glare that I think it's a miracle he didn't pee his pants. I was known for being vindictive and easy to rile up after all.

You know, it was fairly easy to build up such reputation. I just had to act badass and smash a couple of kids against the wall, look always angry and menacing, just like a real criminal, and when fake rumors about my mishaps and all but clean record spread, people started watching me carefully, as if they believed I could snap at any moment and take it against them too. As if I could take out a gun or a knife at any given moment and cause a slaughter. Just because.

I remember one of the first fights I got involved into: back then I was only at the beginning of my sterling reputation as bad boy, so I ought to be even more ruthless, to impose my leadership and let people know I wasn't one to play with; this was because, otherwise, I wouldn't have been respected in Robert's group and my stepfather himself wanted the demonstration that I was who I said I was.

Now, that time, there was this kid just arrived from New York, we both were in sophomore year, he'd heard about me and decided to face me, convinced I was just a "conceited brat that wanted to play Billy Badass". In the beginning I didn't want to react, it was just a city kid thinking he could raise some female attention by facing the school's bad boy, I didn't see the need to pay any attention to him, but then he decided to be theatrical and caught me in the hall, conveniently right before kids would come out of the cafeteria, and started mocking me, purposely to rile me up, considering he knew that was what they said about me, that it took nothing to enflame me.

To tell the truth, I was peaceful, I'd just come out of the cafeteria as well, had been taking my refill, namely, had been creepily watching my princess laugh and chat with her best friend, and for as much as I felt frustrated at the impossibility or joining her for lunch, I felt ... good. Somewhat. As I always did when I was able to rejoice of her smiles, even if from afar.

I was quietly heading to my next class when the kid grabbed my arm to make me turn around. I'll admit that that already annoyed me, because, and yes, it dates back to the punishments I was inflicted, I've never liked physical contact. Unless it's a girl in my arms, I don't like it when people touch me, I don't know, I didn't back then. So that very simple touch already had my jaw clench as I turned around slowly, a couple of kids in the hall already awing at the idea of this new kid having dared touch no less than Eric Rivers.

Believe me, even seniors steered cleared of me when my reputation was built up. I'd even just been the news of the week for having stolen my stepfather's car, which wasn't true at all and I honestly have no idea where did that come from, but people had been talking about me for that reason, especially since they all knew my stepfather had reported me to police without even blinking and I was barely allowed to finish the school year before having to head to the reformatory. That summer, I did spend it in a reformatory, but not the kind they thought.

Anyway, when the kid grabbed my arm, after having called me names of any sort from mid-hall, I think, I didn't react, just looked at him expectantly and he removed his hand, grinning when he heard people coming out of the cafeteria ... time to act, he thought, I guess, because as people swarmed around us, already curious, especially because, other than with Floyd and Dominic, they never saw me talk to anyone, and if I did, it was normally Kyle, which ended up in a brawl normally, same about any other kid I talked to.

The only exception were Dana and any other girl that approached me. Those, except for Dana herself, Allison (Kyle's ex) and a couple of other I did decide to sleep with, usually ran away crying because of how rudely I dismissed them. That's because I didn't have the slightest interest in girls batting their eyelashes at me only to be seen talking to me. Honestly, the times I flirted back were those when I then parked my car in the girl's driveway for the afternoon, if you know what I mean.

Allison was an exception because I liked her, we were sort of friends, well, let's say we knew each other enough (and no, not biblically, not right then at least), while Dana was an exception simply because ... well, she was never the kind of person you can easily turn down and yeah, maybe I did have a little bit of a soft spot for her. Nothing compared to my princess, but if I gotta be honest, if there ever has been another girl that's had an effect on me apart from Natalie, that's Dana Langley. That's why it lasted more between us.

Anyhow, I was saying, as people swarmed around us, the kid, Joshua, thought it was cool to play let's rile up the bad boy, because he started playing around, nonsense I barely listened to and barely remember, but what had me snap was his taunting me: "I know your secret. I know you like the little nerd ... how was the name? Watson something? Since when you like such losers? People said you were cool and now I find out such things ... I guess you like fat asses because ..."

Oh, no, he didn't have the time to finish. Before he could, I'd grabbed him by the collar and smashed him against the wall, my hand around his neck, nearly choking him as I was even able to lift him up of a couple of inches from the ground while he fought to be released.

I let him go almost instantly, but now the damage was done, people were around us, I had to react consequently. I'll admit I'm still sorry for poor Joshua. I wasn't quite able to keep control and broke a couple of his ribs, his arms and his nose, caused him so many fractures that he spent a long time in the hospital and when he came back to school, he was so scared that he never even looked at me again. Of course, I was suspended for that, eh.

But the thing is, before teachers could intervene, while kids were around us watching me beat up poor Joshua as if I was fighting a UFC match, there was someone else that peeped into that circle of spectators, someone whose hazel eyes widened in horror when she spotted me, someone who dared lock gazes with me for a tiny moment, and I remember so clearly how she recoiled at the pure coldness she probably spotted in my eyes, I remember so clearly gulping and lowering her glance, possibly in fear she'd receive the same treatment.

That, the pure fear mixed with horror and disapproval in those eyes, that had me throw poor Joshua on the ground and storm off, just because I needed somewhere quiet to calm down my heart before the pain and frustration caused me a stroke or something. It wasn't the adrenaline of the fight. It wasn't the excitement. It was that look. That fearful and horrified look in those hazel eyes to almost kill me.

I felt like screaming out my frustration and pain. I felt like being stupid and seeking her, grabbing her to take her aside and explain that the monster she saw in that hall was fake. That it was all an act. There was no heartless demon stalking the halls. There was no unmerciful bad boy. But there was, there would always be, a weak heart in her hands. While she daydreamed about the soccer fresh new captain, there was a lovesick heart that cracked every time she smiled so bright at the sight of her crush, there was this stupid fool that loved her with all his worthless being.

There was, and this throughout the years part of me had wanted to tell her, there was this weak heart she kept breaking every time, only to patch is up again with a simple smile, there was this idiot that loved her to a fool point and wanted nothing more than to be able to hold her in his arms, at least for a few moments. Just to know what it felt like. Just to relieve that said weak heart that weakened at her every frightened look she directed at said idiot.

Throughout the years I've wanted, so many times, and I've even been close to it a couple of moments, to grab her small hand gently and talk to her four-eyes, reveal her the truth about how she was giving me life and taking it back continuously, the truth about how her smile brightened up my day but her distance broke my heart.

And here I was again. Creepily watching her while she can't see me, feeling the pain I've bottled up in three years crumble down and crash me again, a thousand times harsher than before. I guess our love was never destined to last. I guess her believing we were meant to be wasn't likeable according to fate. I guess that a life such as mine, I can't really expect something different.

But I can save her at least. I can give her a chance to live for real. I can avoid being selfish once again and let her live the life she deserves. Without me. I've only screwed it all up. I've only given her pain. She gave me life, she gave me the love I never felt was possible. I gave her regrets and pain. If I disappear, if she forgets me, she'll be fine. Times like this, reality would need one of those fictional tricks she so much likes. Like some memory potion to forget everything related to me.

Sighing, I couldn't help but approach the bed and, as I bent down, brush her hair back. I guess it was never really meant to be for us. I was never meant to be happy. That short period with her ... it was pure bliss, but I guess that with that, I ran out of luck. The least I can do is step back and let her live her life for real.

Placing a kiss on her forehead, I couldn't help but whisper: "I love you more than anything, princess. And I'm sorry. Truly. Live for both of us."

***

NATALIE'S POV

Even before opening my eyes, I unconsciously reached for him, but I found only the pillow I was gripping. My eyes shot open and I found the desolating sight of an empty bed.

Gone. Eric was gone. I should have expected it. It was obvious that he couldn't have stayed. He told me that since the beginning. I just fooled myself when he brought me here. But I don't regret it. I regret nothing. I knew it was just a last night together. I knew he'd leave me again and this time forever. I just didn't quite calculate how much it'd hurt to wake up to an empty bed. I just didn't quite know my heart would burn this badly while shattering.

I swallowed the lump in my throat twice, but in the end I did burst out crying, gripping the same pillow where I could still feel his manly scent. Why? Why does it have to hurt like this? Why can't we just be as happy as we were? Why?!

I felt the air in my lungs starting to miss, my sobs were so frantic and so loud and so pained that I could barely breathe. Thinking that the words I heard in my sleep most probably were real and not just a dream only worsened my state. Live for both of us. He told me. Live for both us.

Damnit, Eric, by now you should know that I can't live without you! By now you should know I merely exist without you. By now you should know I cannot be whole without you. I have nothing if I don't have you. What life is it without you? There is no life without you, for God's sakes!

He made me discover love. He made me discover what I am really worth. He made me believe in myself, trust in my own decisions. I never knew love could be so powerful before him. I never knew I could love so endlessly before him. At this point, I'm better off dead. At this point, being victim of collateral damage would be better. At least I'd be with him. At least my life would have sense because it'd be lived with him. Even Juliet didn't regret dying for her Romeo. Even if they'd known each other since three days only. And I?

We've spent six weeks together. The most amazing six weeks of my life and I could never regret them. Even it if brought me to this. Even if it brought to such pain. Why does it have to hurt like this? Why does life to have to be so cruel? Why did it give me someone like Eric and then took him away from me? Why?!

If I'd had any idea where was he headed, I'd have followed my instinct for once and gone after him, I'd have begged him to keep me with him, I'd have left everything I've ever known to adapt to his life, I'd have given up on the life I never had without him just to have a chance for us. If being with him put me in danger, then so be it. If I was to die young, then so be it. Because mine already wasn't life. I quit living when Eric left me. I lost the reason to go on.

I never thought love could hurt this much. I never knew a heart could be shattered in such tiny pieces. I never knew death could be so inviting if compared to a life without him. I never knew I'd find in myself the will not to end my life, but to risk it every moment of every day.

Because right then that's what I wanted. To follow him. Everywhere. And if it cost me my life, then so be it. At least I'd have lived for real other than going on aimlessly. At least there would be something. Not just pain. Endless and unmerciful pain.

When my phone buzzed, I shot up, hoping it was him, maybe he changed his mind and wanted to take me with him, maybe he wasn't really gone, he just went to grab breakfast for the both of us ... I looked around for it, but couldn't find it anywhere, and I looked frantically, convinced it was my last chance, but then it stopped buzzing, and I almost jolted the whole room to find my damn phone and answer, not even considering that it couldn't be Eric because he didn't' have my new number.

Eventually, I found my Smartphone on the floor, underneath the bed. I grabbed it anxiously and called my voicemail when I read the text from my operator, saying I had a new vocal message. My breathing was erratic, I wanted so desperately to believe that it was him, possibly telling me he'd be back in a few minutes or that I ought to meet him somewhere, so that we could live together, even if as outlaws or something. If Lady Marian could accept to lose everything to follow her Robin Hood, why couldn't I? Love is sacrifice, and I was willing to do that for Eric, because Eric had done it for me already.

Yet ... my heart dropped to my ribs when I listened to my voicemail: "Honey, where are you? Is it everything alright? You just disappeared. Please, call me back. I'm worried. Love you." Chase. Closing my eyes, I felt so ashamed ... I just ...

Tears filled my eyes once more, hurting them because they were bloodshot already, but I didn't care, as I plopped back on bed, only sheets covering my nakedness. I just cheated on my boyfriend. And for what? For someone that can't even stay. Someone that's just left me again. And this time forever.

I just cheated on such an incredible boy without a remorse and now I ought to go back to him, look him in the eyes and tell him that he was in love with a heartless bitch that had no regret about betraying his trust. Because I still couldn't regret it. Even though it had been awfully wrong, I still couldn't regret it.

For how heartless and mean and selfish that might sound, I didn't regret cheating on Chase, because it was with my one and only love. Because it wasn't a whoever I hooked up with while drunk. It was the farewell to my Eric, my other half, my life, my heart, my soul, my everything. It was, simply, my Eric. And I'd never regret our last night together. I never could.

I nearly smashed my phone by throwing it away out of desperation but my heart sank even more when something started playing on its own. I'd probably clicked on the playlist without wanting to, so I reached for the Smartphone to stop the song before it burned my heart even more. Because it was so close to my life. It felt as if it was recounting something very specific.

Yet when I grabbed the phone, even with my blurred vision, I was able to see that it wasn't my playlist, it was a message, an audio message that contained the song.

I listened painfully, crying at every verse that bore such hurtful message for me. A way to say goodbye without actually saying it with his own voice. After all, he knows I like that movie, for how sad it is. He knows I like this song as well, even if I never thought, before three years ago, that it could so clearly fit my own life.

I never thought I'd listen to Whitney Houston sing her I Will Always Love You and cry so desperately. Though I have these past years, but now it was worse, because a specific person had sent me that song, to tell me what he didn't voice on his own.

Four of the most painful minutes of my life spent listening to that song, without being able to stop crying, even if my eyes hurt and my heart burn so badly that it almost felt as if I was on the verge of having an attack. They say that dying of heartache is possible after all.

The last blow to my shattered soul and heart were the final words, those that didn't belong to the song, those that didn't come from Whitney's mouth but from a male one, a very familiar male one that was so broken that I feared if he hadn't truly let himself go so entirely to even ... cry ...

"I couldn't endure saying goodbye in person. I thought the song could say everything I need to. Live your life, princess. Live for both of us. I will always love you more than life itself, but you need to go on. Live for me too, Tallie. Live. Don't waste this chance only because of me. Live. And love. Let yourself love. You taught me, life isn't worth living without love. So give in to it. Don't waste your life mourning for me. Move on. Live for me too, Tallie. Please. I love you."

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