An involuntary hand reached up to my mouth to stifle my gasp. I don’t know what kind of an expression I was having on my face then. I just stood there watching his face, watching him stare at the picture in his hand, watching him look at what was left of his brother, Kevin. Shocked and sorry and sad, I just stood by listening to the deafening silence, trying to read the blank inscriptions on his face.
I wished I could do something to make him feel better but I’m a loser in every field. My capabilities to console or comfort people is downright negative along with all the other incapabilities. The best idea I had then was too stay silent like a dying chicken and give him space, not say something stupid and awkward because the situation itself was heavy enough already.
Out of words, I began chewing on my lips. But then again, when I looked at his face, I remembered how he came to my room that night, drunk, and I remembered how he looked; worn out and tired. I couldn’t help but wonder why he was staying away from his parents.
Is he in pain?
His expression was giving away nothing but the more blank his expression became, the more I could see the paleness in his tired eyes; hinting at pain.
“Oh. I’m sorry,” my voice came out barely audible.
He gave a small nod and replied, “It’s a long time already.”
“When did he... die?” I sought into his eyes from under my eyelashes, tactfully; afraid I would do worst with my question... But I wanted to know more about him, his family.
Or if he is in pain.
“Few months before I moved to Carlos. He was seven then,” he said, never leaving his gaze from the picture in his hand.
“What happened to him?”
His voice was dry and rigid without any hint of sadness in it. And it only indicated that it still hurt him.
People like Xavier who is feared by all have mastered the art of masking their emotions, I could tell. Because, I know what it feels like to lose someone you love. When I lost my mom, the bigger part of me died and every time the seventeenth of August come around, pain gets its way and manage to cut a part of my heart... always.
It’s hard to get over with and accept loss. That’s why most of us feel like it’s impossible for our dear ones to die. We just can’t come to think of it, believe it or even accept it when it happens.
I swallowed, “I... I don’t know what else to say but I understand how you feel, Xavier.”
He looked up to me and nodded, “I know you do. You lost your mom too.”
No sooner he said that, my throat constricted and I swallowed bitterly as I realized, Xavier was the one person who understood the pain of lost; understood exactly how I felt when I lost my mom. We have felt and lived through the same thing.
Looking at Kevin’s picture only taught me how cruel life is. But we can never call it biased or unfair. Kevin was still very young. He was just a boy. He had a long way to go ahead of him. But life didn’t care a bit about whether Kevin was a boy or an old man. But it just let him slip just like everyone else before him and those who will after.
When I thought about all these, I remembered David. My breath became heavier as I thought about him. I wouldn’t ever be able to stand, be myself again and live through life with a ‘moving-on’ tag tagged on my face if I ever lose David.
And as I kept thinking about David, my chest tightened more, almost making me pant, and I began to feel more for Xavier, his lost, his pain. It was becoming as clear as day to me.
Has he moved on?
Because I haven’t. No matter how hard I try to, I go back and relive the same pain over and over again whenever my birthday come around... all as fresh as everything had happened just the day before.
“Doesn’t he look like David?”
Snapping out of thoughts, I looked at him. A small smile was tugging the corners of his lips with a bright gleam that reached each and every corner of his eyes as he kept gazing at the picture.
I, too, looked down at the picture again and smiled with him, “Yeah, he does.”
With the glasses and the way Kevin was smiling and everything, he did look like David.
And then it clicked, almost like I had hit the right nail.
Xavier truly loves David... Like his own brother.
Well, of course, I always knew he loved David but I never really gave a thought about it, about why he would love David so much. But now, everything was as clear as looking through a glass wall. And I wanted to keep slapping myself left and right for accusing him of manipulating David (which I didn’t actually mean but said somehow while I was PMSing). Just terrific.
To him, David was his brother. He was like the ultimate living memory of Kevin.
When I recalled everything about Xavier and David; all their little chats inside his car while driving us back home from school and how their faces flood with happiness whenever they see each other (like how excited both of them were today to be meeting after two weeks) and how much Xavier cares about David, how much Xavier love David, I wanted to cry right there.
“Xavier, I’m so sorry,” I said.
“About saying that you manipulated David.”
He grinned, “That day was the day I kissed you, right?”
He chuckled, “Don’t worry about it. I kissed you and that makes us even. And besides,” he smirked, more to himself, and supplemented, “I remember you were PMSing that day.”
My mouth opened so wide and I shoved him on his chest, “Xavier!”
He laughed heartedly, making his way back to the couches near the glass wall and said, “But seriously, don’t worry about it. We both screwed up that day, I guess. Obviously I screwed up more but... You did too. Why didn’t you kiss me back?” he spun back on his heels and demanded like a stubborn five years old.
“Duh,” I quirked an eyebrow at him, “Didn’t Allie teach you not to kiss a girl while she’s angry?”
And then his grin grew only wider, so wide that you might have possible seen the stretch of a national highway there.
“She might have probably missed that out,” he nodded.
Plopping down on a couch and keeping the picture on the rounded glass table where the cupcakes and the water were kept, he asked, “Alana, do you realize that things become easier for us the more we screw up?”
“Hmm,” I mused sitting down on another couch.
Things did apparently become easier between us after both of us screwed up in turns. First, I crashed at his house high on Brownies, then it was him in my room, drunk, after that we began talking to each other like real humans do. And above all that, we fought, we fought because he fought with Jason, we fought because David fought in school (we always keep fighting), and he kissed me, I slapped him (we really did mess things up that day). Then we fought again at the hospital because of Jacob and then he disappeared for two weeks... Ultimately, we ended up knowing more of each other and it made things easier for the two of us.
Geez, we do fight like married couples.
“I guess that’s right,” agreeing with him, I laughed.
“It is,” he chuckled too.
He exhaled deeply as he ran a hand through his hair, “He would’ve been a better person than me if he was alive.” He said, looking at Kevin’s picture.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” I commented.
He looked into my eyes, studying me meticulously as though he was trying to memorize me. And I started doing the only think I was specialized in... Blinking rapidly and furiously. And I gulped.
“Aren’t you afraid of me, Alana?”
I stared back at him without an answer. My lips slightly parted but no words came out. I had to close it again as I stared back at him.
‘I was’, my conscience answered for me.
Why are you quiet, dear conscience?
He kept looking at me, his eyes thoughtful and desperate for the answer.
I breathed and spoke, “You are indeed dangerous, I know. I’ve seen you... fight,” I paused.
His eyes were never leaving mine. They were continually caving into mine, looking for the answer. My chest began to throb. I can never take the way those eyes stare at me.
“Yes. I was afraid of you,” I deadpanned.
There appeared a quick, dim frown in between his eyes the moment I said it.
There goes the ‘but’ of my but-full life again and I had no idea how to put the words together.
“But...” I tried not to look at him as I hunted for words in my mind (he was too intimidating), “You’re... You’re interesting,” I finally said something.
What did I say?
“Hmm,” he nodded and then added for himself, “And irresistible?” his lips twitched at the end.
God! He is so cocky!
When will he ever stop being so narcissistic?!
“Does your narcissism ever run out?” I asked.
“Darling, it’s not narcissism, it’s called stating-facts.”
I rooooolled my eyes.
“So you’re not afraid of me anymore?”
“Good. You know, I really have a thing for brave girls,” he grinned cockily and winked at me from his couch where he was now sitting like Lord Arquette.
I rolled my eyes again.
Better roll than blush.
“Is this see through?” I asked pointing an index finger at the glass wall, “Like can people see you from outside?”
“Are you crazy? Hell No! Only I can see through. I wouldn’t risk my virgin ass being seen by random people when I walk around naked in my room,” he answered lackadaisically.
Without a second thought, I asked, “You walk around naked in your room?” and then, immediately, I clamped a hand over my mouth; my eyes wide open.
Dear Lord, what the freaking Elvis Presley did I just say?!
At first, his face was blank for a second or two but no sooner after that, he was rolling on the couch laughing so hard that he had to clutch his stomach with both hands; the long frame of his body vibrating on the couch.
Biting my lips, up and down, I just sank back on my couch and looked out through the cursed glass wall into the lawn below. I wouldn’t mind or protest a bit if a UFO spaceship fly right in through the wall and abduct me. I’d be so glad I might probably thank them profusely for kidnapping me at the most perfect moment. That was just what I needed in that situation I had kicked myself in.
Seriously, Alana. The best question in the history of specialized awkward and embarrassment.
All hail the embarrassing, Alana!!
I glanced at him. He was not done laughing yet. His face was buried in the back of the couch and his fists were thumping on it time and again as his breath kept hitching due to his wonderful humor.
When he looked at me, his face and neck were all flushed red and there were tears in his eyes. I could swear my face would’ve looked the same, the only difference was the cause of it. His was the laughter. Mine was the embarrassment.
He rubbed off the tears that were pooling around his eyes with the back of his hands and answered the extremely intelligent question I asked, “I’ll leave the answer to your imagination.”
I just made a face and said nothing. There was no way I would risk breathing a word and land myself in the same situation again.
Then, everything was quiet. I didn’t even look at him. I pulled my legs to my chest, trying to hide my face from him with my knees if possible, and just stared outside.
“Dammit,” he swore and then cursed under his breath, knowing that I was way beyond embarrassed, “I shouldn’t have laughed. I’m sorry.”
I actually felt like crying and running away. I hate myself at times like this. I really do.
I have a birdbrain for a human brain.
Still chewing my lips, I simply nodded and said, “I shouldn’t have asked that.”
Sighing deeply, he came over to me, squatting down in front of me, and took my hands which were wrapped around my knees.
“I’m sorry. I really shouldn’t have laughed,” he said kissing both my hands to comfort me.
I took a deep breath and nodded again, “It’s okay.”
After all, it was my fault. Who wouldn’t laugh at that.
But he was still guilty, seeing how completely mortified I was feeling.
He stood up, leaned in to me and kissed my cheek and breathed into my neck, “I’m really sorry, Mongrel. I keep messing up with you, don’t I?”
After hearing him call me Mongrel again after such a long, long time, suddenly, I felt better and all that I was feeling was shoved back somewhere in the back of my mind like they were mere garbage.
I slowly smiled at him.
“You okay, right?” he asked caressing my cheeks with his thumbs.
He smiled back soothingly and kissed my cheek again.
We moved down from the couches to the carpeted floor; opened books surrounding us but never coming close to studying. He kept cracking jokes and being cocky... and he kept eating. I think he was really hungry. I actually enjoyed watching him eat. For the first time in my sight, he looked as innocent as a new born baby; when his mouth was full of cupcakes.
I took a bite myself and said nodding as I admired the beautifully made cup cake in my hand, “Hmm. It’s really good.”
“Yeah. She (Elaine) does make good ones.”
“It taste really good.”
“I know,” he smiled widely. “By the way, how’d you know that song? It’s old. You sang that song the night you got high too,” he said as he took a bite of his fifth cupcake.
“Mmhmm,” he nodded with his mouth full again.
“I learned it while I was in East Port. I used to work part time in a florist shop during weekends, run by a certain Mrs. Clayton. It’s her favorite song. She’s amazing; sweet and always cheerful and....”
He listened quietly as I kept talking about Mrs. Clayton. I missed her. It’d been so long now since I last saw her. I hoped she’d be doing fine and healthy and romantic as ever.
He smiled softly, “I wanna meet this Mrs. Clayton you’re talking bout. It seems you like her a lot.”
“Yeah, she’s like a mother to me. I guess, you’ll like her too. Allie reminds me so much of her.”
Captain Jack came in and nuzzled into Xavier’s chest; into Xavier whose full length body was strength on the floor far and wide. He rolled over and played with his great hound. Xavier is extremely fond of his dog, I could tell.
“You’re really fond of him, aren’t you?”
“Hell yeah. He’s the love of my life. Not just that. He reminds me so much of you while you were gone. When I look into his eyes, I see you since he ate all your Starbursts,” his lips twitched.
I wanted to hit him.
“I really wanna hit you with something right now,” I said and looked around for something I could hit him with and he chortled loudly, clearly enjoying teasing me.
Captain tried reaching out for the cupcakes on the tray with its mouth.
“No. No. No,” Xavier pulled him back, “Those are not for you. Go ask Elaine for yourself.”
Captain obediently made for the door.
“Wait. Wait. Captain, come back here,” Xavier called as and when pushing himself up from the floor.
Captain came back.
This dog is smart.
Xavier got up from the floor, went over to the CD player beneath the TV and played a music. He then, appeared at the spacious part of his room and smiled towards me, “Watch this.”
A clap of his hands and Captain bounced up into his arms. Xavier caught his fore paws in his hands.
“One two three,” Xavier mumbled and then, the Knight and the Squire started dancing to the beat.
My jaws literally (literally) dropped open... Flabbergasted.
“Look at me, Captain,” Xavier said as Captain’s eyes kept going back to the cupcakes.
When Captain looked at him, Xavier was smirking and was like, “Look at that, Alana. The passion in his eyes.”
I couldn’t hold back anymore. I bursted laughing, clutching my stomach. I seriously couldn’t imagine how the heck Xavier raised that dog!
They killed it.
Never in my wildest dream had I imagined the dauntless Xavier to be this funny. He made me laugh the whole time I was in his house, in his room... with him.
I suggested we study at least something and he pouted it off. About six and a half in the evening, we bade goodbye to Allie and he drove me back. Twilight had passed and dusk had fallen by then.
Taking my hand in his, he walked me to the front door. He rarely walked me to the door knowing that I didn’t appreciate it. But the whole scheme of nature seemed to have changed after the History class earlier this morning. And I didn’t seem to have any problem with that anymore. Actually, I liked it more this way. The walls I’d put up between us was wearing off. I could feel it.
The lights were on.
David is home? I though he would be at Harry’s.
“I’ll see you tomorrow then,” I said and was about to unlock the door when he grabbed my wrist.
I looked up to him. Our eyes met fighting through the dim light of dusk. The light color of his brown eyes made the air become unusually warmer.
He pulled me in and wrapped his strong arms around me. I caught my breath as the heat of his body rushed throughout my body in waves and flooded me. He rested his chin on my shoulder, burying his face in the crook of my neck.
What do I do?
What do I do?
He breathed in deeply and said, “I really missed you, Alana.”
A wave of steamy breath flooded my neck making me shudder and form a tight knot inside my stomach.
This is so new to me.
I tried breathing like a real human. But, oh well, that was impossible against Xavier’s charm.
“I wanted to come back the moment Grammy called up and told me you came to my place.”
I was too dazed to answer anything.
He pulled back slightly to look into my eyes and asked me, “Why were you there, Alana?”
The reason why I was there saddened me and instantly brimmed my eyes with tears. It still hurt even though it was all in the past now. I came for him and he was gone... without knowing how sorry I was.
“I found out you didn’t beat Jacob so I came to tell you I was sorry but you were already gone,” my voice was fine in the beginning but by the end, it began to crack, “I felt so bad that you left without knowing...”
He sighed and pulled me in again, hugging me tighter and kissing the top of my head.
“You don’t have to apologise, Mongrel. It was my fault. I was the one who told you I beat him,” the softness in his voice and the closeness between us overwhelmed me from head to toe.
I smiled through tears. It felt so good to hear him call me MONGREL again. I missed it so badly. And when he called me with that name, everything seemed to get better all of a sudden like magic.
“Then why did you say it was you?” I asked with half of my voice muffled by his chest.
He sighed so deeply that I felt his chest rise and fall beneath my cheek and he answered after swallowing a gulp that I felt his Adam-Apple move above my head, “I was jealous that you came for him without anyone asking you to. I wondered if you’d ever feel the same for me, come for me when I need you, or come to me even when I don’t really need you to but just because you want to see me. I wonder of you’ll ever look at me the way you look at him.”
“Xavier,” I looked up at him.
He looked down at me, his face a shift of somberness and wistfulness, pale. And I wanted to put color and live in it; not just in his expressions only but also to his heart and soul. I wanted to be there for him.
“Jacob is my childhood friend. I will always be there for him even if doesn’t ask me to, not because he need me or because I need to be with him. We don’t need each other. It’s just how it works. He’s always been like a brother to me and we will always look after each other. But with you, is not like that. Everything is different. You’re not Jacob. And I can’t look at you the same way I look at him. And I never did. I had a crush on Jacob but since you came around, you questioned my feelings for him and now, I’m afraid Jacob will not be more than someone I used to have a crush on. Now you tell me, do you want me to look at you the same way I look at Jacob?” I asked in the end.
His jaws clenched but his face lightened like the passing of a storm and he eventually smiled, “No.”
“Xavier, I see you differently. Don’t compare yourself with Jacob. Jacob doesn’t need me. My question is, do you? I need to know. If you don’t need me, you’ll just be another Jacob.”
He grabbed my neck with both hands and answered immediately without wasting another moment, “I need you. I need you, Alana. I need you, so please stay with me,” he leaned it and placed his forehead against mine, eyes closed.
I closed my eyes too, feeling his presence close to me. The passion in his answer took me all over from head to toe like heat wave and I couldn’t help but smile.
“I wanna stay with you too,” I whispered back.
Throwing his arms around me, he crushed me to his body in a tight embrace, breathing deeply against my neck and into my hair.
“I need you like I need oxygen, dammit. You should’ve seen how I survived the past two weeks,” he grumbled sulkily.
I giggled and replied, “You should’ve seen me too.”
And then he chuckled and said, “If you ever fall for Garfield again, I’ll set my dog on you.”
I couldn’t help but laugh a little. His threat was impossibly cute.
I slowly encircled my arms across his waist and they eventually travelled up his back stopping at the dent of his muscles and I nestled into his broad chest like a child.
And I found something there in his arms; something nameless, something good, something... something magical.
He held me even closer and tighter, if possible, like he was afraid I would slip away any moment. And it gave me all the feels I had never felt before in my entire life. No one has ever made me feel this way... Wanted and Possessed.
With Xavier, everything is new and nameless. I have never come across anyone like him in my entire life. There’s something about him you can’t quite put your finger on. If I have to compare him with a subject, he’s calculus. My brain is too dumb to solve him. He proved me wrong all the time. But that is one fact I liked even more about him... Surprises.
It’s true, You either hate him without a second thought or love him with all of you.
Everybody has it’s bad sides too. Me, Xavier, everyone included. It’s only our choice which side of us we bring out. And Xavier had done so well in sugar-coating all his domineering, cold, harsh sides with his loving, understanding, amazing, considerate, funny... and the list goes on... Side of him.
And I might just be falling in love with him, Kendra.
I bit my lower lip as I buried my face in his hard chest, holding back a grin as I felt him kiss my forehead and smile there.
The best feeling ever.