Troubled Sincerity

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Chapter 8 | The Talk

After class, I’m walking toward the cafeteria to grab a quick bite to eat.

I hear my name, and instantly know whom the voice belongs to.

I slowly turn around and sigh.

“What’s up Mark?”

I’ve been feeling so weird after what happened earlier today. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the fact that he has a girlfriend. Connor said it wasn’t anything serious, and that I shouldn’t worry, but I can’t help it. Something inside of me will always have some type of feelings for Mark, whether I want to admit it or not. Jealousy is second nature to me when it comes to him, even if I’m ashamed to say it.

“Can we finish our talk?” He asks nervously.

“I don’t know. I’m starving and I don’t have a lot of time to eat before my next class.”

“I can go with you, I haven’t eaten yet either.” He suggests, still hopeful.

“Sure.” I end up nodding. Might as well get this over with.

We walk side by side toward the cafeteria, and as I notice Connor sitting at one of the nearby tables with Marissa, they both look at me and give me reassuring smiles.

I nod in acceptance, and continue on walking with Mark.

Once we reach the cafeteria, we go inside and head straight for the food line. I grab a chicken Caesar salad, with a diet Dr. Pepper, as Mark goes for a burger with some fries.

“I can’t believe you’re passing up fries.” Mark comments in surprise.

“Well, I need to work on my figure a little.” I sheepishly smile. I’ve packed on a few pounds since over the summer. The many nights out drinking and binge eating is the cause.

“You’ll never need to work on your figure.” Mark blurts out, and then he looks as though he’s internally slapping himself. “I mean, you look fine.”

I chuckle. “Thanks.”

We both take a seat at an empty table, sitting opposite of each other.

I watch him as he squirts some ketchup onto his burger and all over his fries.

“You’re supposed to dip your fries, you animal.” I tease.

Mark smirks, “Don’t tell me how to live my life, Nave.”

That nickname. It sends my heart into a stammer.

“So, the talk…” I trail off, getting straight to the point.

Mark’s smirk falters, but then he nods. “The talk.”

“Listen,” I sigh, “I know what happened has already happened, and we can’t change it. I wish desperately that we could, but we can’t. I am so incredibly sorry that you were hurt. That still haunts me every day. I try to forget about it, but I can’t. The sight of your car upside down. I literally thought you had died, Mark. I honestly wouldn’t have known how I would handle it, if you had died, before I could apologize for hurting your feelings. As I said, I wasn’t rejecting you, I just couldn’t get a hold on my emotions. Everything kept happening so fast…” I try to explain as I look down at my salad.

The lettuce seems a bit old.

“Naveah, please, stop.” Mark interrupts me. “I know it seemed as though I blamed you for the accident, but it wasn’t your fault no more than it was mine or the earth's. It was raining, I was mad, I was speeding… it just happened.” He slightly shrugs. He’s looking down at his food, probably trying to concentrate on anything other than me. “All it was, was a freak accident. It was nobody’s fault. Just an unfortunate turn of events. That’s it. I don’t want you to continue blaming yourself. It isn’t going to help or solve anything. I hate that it’s eating away at you this much.” He admits.

We’re both frowning by this point. A sudden wave of sadness has washed over this table, maybe even this entire cafeteria.

“And if it’s any consolation, I forgive you.” He finally says, and my eyes snap to meet his.

“You what?” I blurt.

“I forgive you. For that day, for everything. This entire summer sucked without you. I shouldn’t have left the park that day, I should have accepted your honest answer, and left it at that. Maybe then we could have later reconciled, and attempted at being friends. Instead, I completely shut you out, and forced you to leave the damn country just to get away from me.”

He’s actually blaming himself for my trip to Europe?

“Mark, I went to Europe for a lot of reasons, it wasn’t just you.” I admit.

He nods. “I know that now.”

The grimace on his face tells me that he might be thinking about Dylan. I can’t help the feel of my stomach dropping at the idea that Mark might be jealous.

“Dylan and I aren’t together, not officially anyway.” I find myself saying. I have no idea why I needed to say that.

Maybe a part of me wanted him to know that I’m not taken. That I am still available to whatever possibilities we might want to explore.

My subconscious is screaming at me to remain strong, but I’ve always been putty in Mark’s hands, and I don’t think that will ever change.

Mark’s brown eyes snap to mine, and in an instant, we are in a complete staring contest. Neither one of us even blinks as we take each other in.

Mark has honestly never looked better. He seems older, more mature even. There’s a slight stubble to his face that is rather sexy.

Wait, what am I saying? Shut the hell up brain.

“That surprises me. I mean, he followed you all the way from Europe.” Mark says.

“Technically, he says he didn’t just follow me. It’s a long story.” I shrug, lamely.

“Naveah, what’s going on here?” Mark suddenly asks.

I want nothing more for him to see through my walls, to see that maybe somehow, we can try to actually be together. I feel immense sadness for Dylan, as I know he too has feelings for me, but I can’t help how I feel.

Sure, I care about Dylan. He made my summer amazing, and helped me to forget a lot of the things I thought I couldn’t. He was there when I needed someone, and I can never repay him for that.

But this isn’t just anyone. This is Mark.

“I-I don’t know.” I finally say. “I really just don’t.”

“Well, maybe you should figure it out.” Mark challenges.

“Why is this only on me to figure out?” I raise an eyebrow accusingly.

Mark finishes the last of his fries. “Because, remember what you said? You said that you weren’t sure how you felt about us. That you weren’t sure if we should be together. Isn’t that why you rejected me at the park in the first place?” He accuses. “So, you need to figure out what you want. That’s it.”

I stare at him incredulously. He’s forgetting something very important.

“Oh yeah, and what about Jessica?” I challenge. “Where does she come into all of this? As far as she’s concerned, you two are a couple.”

Mark’s eyebrows raise, and then he smirks that famous Mark Chase smirk. “I love that she bothers you. You’re sexy when you’re jealous.”

My eyes widen as my cheeks flush crimson.

Why the hell would he say that?

“Answer my damn question.” I grumble.

“I’ll deal with Jessica when the time comes. Still, you need to figure out what you want Naveah. I can’t keep going back and forth with you, it’s exhausting.”

I stare at him in awe. This is exhausting for him? What about me?

Mark stands from the table, tosses his empty plate into the nearby trash can, and then walks back over to me. He leans down beside me, his mouth inches away from my ear.

“I’m tired of being tired, Nave.”

The way his breath fans over my skin, causes instant goosebumps to raise on the back of my neck. He lingers there for a second, almost as if he’s breathing me in. His nose barely brushes against my neck, and I almost think he’s going to kiss the tender area, before he abruptly pulls away and leaves.

I’m rooted to my seat. I can’t move. I’m paralyzed.

What the hell just happened?

| Mark’s POV |

I feel my heart beating rapidly against my chest as I walk out of the cafeteria.

Did I really just do that? What the hell is wrong with me?

I shrug to myself. It felt right.

I hate to admit that she feels right.

I hesitated, because I wanted desperately to kiss her, but I knew I couldn’t. Not yet.

It wouldn’t be fair to anyone. Not to Dylan, not to Jessica, and definitely not to us. We both still have a lot to figure out, and I’m pretty sure we both want to do things right this time around.

We created such a fuck-storm last year, and I can’t let us go back to that. We’re older, wiser, we need to start acting like it. We need to start acting like adults.

Still, I can’t help but to admit just how much being around her still affects me.

I’m still so tangled up in her, it’s a little scary.

She’s in my mind on a repetitive loop, no matter how hard I’ve tried to resist.

“Mark!” I hear my name.

I sigh.

I turn to greet Jessica with a forced smile. “Hey.”

“How was class babe?” She smiles wide while throwing herself into my side.

“It was good.” I fake another smile. “How was your day?”

“Awesome! My professor shared my essay with the entire class because it was so good.” She beams, and I can’t help but feel happy for her. Jessica is a very smart girl, and I know she worked hard on that essay.

This time I don’t fake my smile. “That’s great! I know you worked your ass off.”

Jessica pulls me into a hug, and while we’re entangled together, I peer behind her and see another familiar blonde walking towards the cafeteria.

When Lucy spots me, she points her index finger toward her open mouth, faking a gag. I know she’s referring to Jessica, but I still can’t help but chuckle a little. Lucy smiles after that with a shake of her head as she finally walks inside the cafeteria, probably meeting up with Naveah.

“What’s so funny?” Jessica asks while pulling away.

“Nothing, just thought about something from earlier. Want me to walk you to your next class?” I offer, and Jessica beams at me with a nod.

I know I should probably ends things with her, especially if I ever want a shot in hell at finally being with Naveah. Still, it pains me to know that I may very well break this poor girls heart. It’s going to take me some time before I can muster up the courage.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Two years ago, I would have broken this girl’s heart without a second thought, as ruthless as I was back then. Now, after everything and all of my emotions being put on overdrive, I guess I’m a little more caring and understanding now. I suppose I have Naveah to thank for that.

She humbled me in a way that most wouldn’t recognize. I can’t thank her enough for that.

After I walk Jessica to her class, I spot Connor and Marissa walking toward the quad.

“Hey!” I shout, gaining their attention.

They both stop and wait for me to catch up to them.

“What’s up man?” Connor smiles.

“I think I’m in way over my head here.” I admit.

“Let me guess, Naveah?” He smirks.

I roll my eyes, giving him my answer.

“Man, you need to get a hold of yourself. You were so put together at the start of this year. Only a few encounters with Naveah and you’re a mess again.” He shakes his head with a tinge of humor laced in his words.

“Dude I can’t help it, that girl makes me crazy!” I defend myself, throwing my hands up in the air.

“That is so fucking adorable.” Marissa comments with a smile.

“Whatever.” I shrug. “But now I have Jessica to worry about.”

“You’re the one that said you never made it official with her. Just let her down easy. That’s all you can do.” Connor says seriously. “It’s not fair to string her along.”

“I know that,” I sigh, “God why is my life so dramatic?”

“Get a grip dude. It’s not like your life is a novel.”

Huh, interesting concept.

“Can you please just tell me how to do this?” I beg.

“Sorry, no can do. You have to do this all on your own.” Marissa smirks. “It’ll be worth it in the end. You’ll be proud of yourself.”

“Since when did you become the rational thinker?” I quirk an eyebrow.

Marissa only shrugs, “I blame him,” She motions toward Connor who only smiles at her.

“Fan-fucking-tastic.” I mumble.

“You’ll be fine. I promise.” Connor reassures. “Let me know how it goes.”

I nod, and they both continue walking away in the opposite direction.

I can do this.

I need to do this.

Naveah is worth it.

We’re worth it.

I decide that I can’t put up this façade any longer. All my walls suddenly come crumbling down at the very realization that’s illuminated in big bright lights inside of my head.

I want to be with Naveah.

I want her so goddamn much.

In fact, I just down right need her.

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