~Is it you or are the lights getting brighter in the night?~Grace VanderWaal.
Chapter Theme Song: ‘Ur So Beautiful’ by Grace VanderWaal.
My mom puts up a façade when she’s around new people. She knows I never eat dinner with her and Jeff, and she knows she hasn’t prepared such lovely food in a while. The plate of lasagna sitting in front of me looks unusual. Normally, I would have pizza for dinner while she takes Jeff out to one of the fanciest restaurants in town.
I still find it hard to believe that my mom is my ‘mother’. We are nothing alike. She has long black hair that is a lot more ‘well-behaved’ than mine is and she’s a slender-bodied woman with a height of 5′8. She likes shopping and jewelry while I am contented with a Rockstar T-shirt and leather boots. She likes getting her nails done at the poshest salon she can find while I, on the other hand, don’t mind using the black nail polish from my dresser. We are total opposites, maybe that’s why we don’t get along. Anymore, that is.
The table is awkwardly quiet while I twirl my fork in my spaghetti; the noodles suddenly seeming more interesting than the people surrounding me.
Except for Ansel. He sparks my interest more than anything. His memorizing my poem was neat, but the scary fact that he may know a lot more than I think makes me uncomfortable.
Jeff is staring askance at Ansel from across the table while he shoves a forkful of noodles in his mouth.
Jeff is younger than my Mom by four years. He’s a medium height man with curly brown hair that’s always faded at the sides. He has this hideous stubble on his craggy jaw and his eyes are a weird color. Not sure which color they are because I can’t look at him past five seconds without feeling disgusted. But they are probably a color close to grey or something. I don’t care to know.
My mom is bringing forth her best-civilized behavior. If I wasn’t so pissed at the earlier confrontation with her common-law husband, I would openly laugh at how hard she’s trying.
“So, Ansel, right?” She begins, beaming at him from across the table.
He brings his eyes up from his untouched plate and nods, half his lips barely turning up in a smile. Once again, he doesn’t smile with his eyes, but I doubt my Mom discerns that.
“You are quite good-looking. Are you in the same classes as my daughter?”
“Uh, well so far we have Math and Gym together.”
“Oh, nice.” She nods, pretending to care. “Is she doing well in school? Like, are there any complaints about her, is she involved in any quarrels or arguments of any-”
I sigh. “Mom, please.”
“No. I have never seen her arguing with anyone.” Ansel narrows his eyes a little. “She’s quiet and she’s great at Math. She’s smart.” He genuinely smiles after saying that, this time, with his eyes.
“Oh, is she?”
He cocks his head to the side, and she laughs a little. “Well you see, she has never shown me her test results and stuff. Only her detention sheets, since I had to sign them. Which was pretty often.”
I grip my fork tighter. I can’t tell what annoys me more; Jeff’s icy glare aiming at me from across the table or my mother’s attempt at making me seem like a bad person.
She always does this. She has friends over a lot and whenever I pass by her little ‘conference’ in the dining room to get to the kitchen, she’s always telling her ‘uptown’ friends how much of a pain I am. I am not sure what I did to the lady; she just woke up one day and hated me.
Ansel’s expression is unreadable, and he doesn’t offer her a reply. The silence is weird, so she smiles again, an exaggerated sigh leaving her lips.
“Well, I am happy she has decent friends for once. I mean, she has this friend by the name of Riley, I am not sure if you’ve met her-”
And here we go again.
“She's the same age as Rain. God, the little girl is just so...wild, you know?”
“Mom, do not talk about Riley like that,” I hiss.
“She used to attend Freetown High with Rainey, right?” She continues, “do you know Freetown High? No? Well, it’s this school a few miles away. So, this ‘friend’ of Rainey is one bad girl. I mean this girl knows bouncers at clubs and I wouldn’t be surprised if she knows drug-dealers too. I think she is one of the reasons Rainey got involved with-”
“Could you please stop?” I throw my fork down, ana loud clink echo throughout the dining room as it collides with the glass plate. “This is why I don’t eat dinner with you people.”
I don't understand why she would say all that to someone she just met. Is she that determined to wound my feelings?
I am about to leave the table in anger when Jeff speaks.
“So, Kid in the glasses.” He begins, wiping his lips with a napkin while he glares at Ansel. “How long is your timeline?”
Ansel narrows his eyes. “Sorry?”
“How long are you planning to stick around to get inside her jeans?”
“Jeff.” My mom calmly raises her palm to him, and I furrow my brows at the impertinent man sitting across from me.
“How can you be so disrespectful? Do not fucking ask him that!”
“Language, Rainey!” My mother barks. “What on earth is wrong with you?!”
She’s always ready to defend Jeff but on that day at Freetown High when I sat inside that principal’s office, she didn’t defend me.
“So, it’s okay for Jeff to be rude to someone but the minute I react, I am being scolded?”
“You are always swearing and that’s very disrespectful. He’s older than you.” She reprimands.
“He swears at me all the time, so is it okay for him to do that? I am guessing a lot of things are okay for him to do to me!”
“Stop being overdramatic, Rainey. Grow up, you’re such a damsel in distress, child!”
“You say you’re my Mom, but you care about Jeff so much more than you care about me! How could you take the side of someone who-!”
A warm hand grips mine beneath the table and the solace it holds cut me off.
I bring my eyes to Ansel, and he smiles a little, closing his eyes with a small nod as if to tell me it’s okay.
I am not sure why, but the feel of our palms touching gives me so much comfort; comfort I haven’t felt in a while.
My body relaxes and I lower my eyes. His hand is soft and noticing how calm I have become, he releases me slowly. I can’t deny the weird emptiness I suddenly feel now that our hands have parted.
Ansel sighs, a small smile surfacing his flawless features.
“It’s okay Rain. Questions were made to be asked.” He begins, and I am surprised that his tone is calm despite Jeff’s rude statement. “Your name is Jeff, right?” Ansel questions but he doesn’t wait for Jeff to respond before he continues. “Could you be so kind as to do me the honor of clarifying what you meant by that statement?”
He stares Jeff in the eyes, his smile unchanging and for some strange reason, it makes Jeff nervous. I can’t deny how admirable Ansel's reaction is. He looks genuinely unbothered.
Jeff shifts in his spot, Ansel’s calm composure clearly throwing him off. He forces to bring forth a stern countenance and the two are just starring at each other for a while. Jeff looks mad but Ansel looks amused.
“Uh, we should just end this silly conversation.” My mom chimes in quickly, sensing the dangerously thickening tension in the room. “I have some desert in the fridge Ansel. Would you like some?”
“No. Ansel is leaving now. It’s getting late.” I mutter.
“Yeah...it really is,” Jeff grumbles, reaching for his glass and taking a sip of his champagne, his eyes not leaving Ansel’s.
I swallow, tearing my gaze away from the man across from me. “Are you ready, Ansel?”
He gets up from his spot, but his eyes are fixed on Jeff’s. “Yeah, I’ll take my leave now. Have a good night.”
“Please come back again.” My mom proposes. “I am truly sorry for the awkward first meeting. I hope we can have a talk next time, Ansel.”
Ansel smiles a little, but it fades quickly as he turns away. I follow him toward the door, glancing at a livid Jeff in the process.
He should know that his intimidation doesn’t work on everyone.
The silver moonlight spills over the street as we step through my gates. The night air is chilly, and the cool breeze ruffles our hair around. I grab onto my skirt, using the opposite hand to push my hair away from my eyes.
“That was one interesting dinner.” Ansel comments. I take notice of the thick vapor emitting from his mouth as he speaks. It is so cold out here that my feet are freezing inside the leather boots I am wearing.
“I am sorry about how weird my family is,” I reply truthfully, staring at my feet.
Embarrassment is an understatement. To think Ansel had to witness how messed up my family is, makes me feel way past humiliated. I should have just done the worksheet at his house instead. I am not sure what made me think him coming to my place would be the right decision.
“It's okay. Trust me, I’ve seen weirder, Rain.” He assures me with a toothy smile. His white teeth beam under the crescent moon, competing with the bright stars that spot the night sky. He fits in so perfectly with them. The thought is corny and unlike me, so I flash the notion away and sigh. “It’s not okay.”
“It is. I am not easily unnerved. It takes a lot to get me offended. Don’t worry about it.”
Recalling how he kept his composure earlier, I can’t say I don’t believe him.
He squats down to check his bike out and I wrap an arm around myself, looking around the dark neighborhood with just a few streetlights lighting the scheme.
Scheme One of Crossview Close is quieter at night, I can tell everyone here goes to bed at probably 6 pm. No kids are running around or riding tricycles or playing on the streets like normal neighborhoods. It’s just boring. Where I used to live, the neighborhood was always alive. I wonder if Scheme Two is just as lame.
“My tyres are flat,” Ansel announces as he stands up, dusting his palms together.
"They are?” I tuck my hair behind my ear, analyzing the wheels of the bike. I am no bicycle expert, but I can tell his tyres are out of air.
“How come? I mean they were fine earlier, weren’t they?”
My gaze is confused but Ansel doesn’t seem surprised.
“Well...your stepdad sure has nice ways of welcoming people...” He mutters beneath his breath. “It’s okay, I’ll just walk home. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.” He offers me a smile, then grips onto the handles of his bike and begins to move off.
I nibble on my lower lip, contemplating whether I should accompany him to the end of the street. I feel bad that he had an unpleasant evening because of my mom and Jeff.
I jog up beside him. He looks taken off guard as he looks over at me. His quizzical gaze makes me offer a justification.
“Uhm, I’ll just walk with you...”
He shakes his head in disapproval but doesn’t cease his strides. “No way, do you think I’d be crazy to let a girl walk me home?” he titters.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind.”
“But I do, Rain. It’s dark and cold out. You should go back inside.”
“It’s okay, I am not scared of anything,” I assure.
Ansel raises a brow, seeming impressed at my response. “Really?”
I lower my eyes, walking in line with his strides. “Well...I mean I am not scared of things that I can see and touch.”
I look at him and he’s just gazing at me. I realize how stupid my response sounded and shake my head. “I know, it’s confusing.”
“It’s not...” He quickly asserts. “But I’d love for you to give me an example of what you mean though.”
“Okay, well. I am not scared of burglars or mobs. But I fear feelings...and love.”
Ansel tilts his head to the side. He appears intrigued as he stares at me. “That’s interesting. Why?”
My body raises in a shrug. “I don’t know. I guess I just feel like they won’t last forever, you know. I mean, my Mom used to love me once. She doesn’t anymore, so I guess feelings change like the seasons, don’t they?”
Ansel halts his strides and turns to face me. The night is dark, but the dim streetlights offer ample lighting to see the curious glint in his eyes.
His focused eye-contact feels like he’s trying to discover something, and I shift in my stance, wondering if he’s somehow seeing things I wouldn’t want him to.
“Is that why your eyes tend to look like that?” His serene tone breaks through the quiet atmosphere.
I stare at him; not sure I understand what he’s trying to say. “Wh-what do you mean?”
“Your eyes. They have this look in them.” He clarifies. “I don’t know, but they look like the eyes of someone who’s screaming on the inside.”
I swallow hard. His statement touches a sore spot within me, but I can’t allow him to see that. I was young when I first realized that wearing your emotions on your sleeves makes you appear weak and I never want to be a weak person. Ever again.
I blink my eyes and lower my gaze instantly. I should avoid locking gazes with this guy; I think that’s the loophole he’s using to see into my soul. I am not sure I like it.
A car speeds up beside us, interrupting the weird and intense moment between us. We pull our focus to the winding window of the black Subaru.
“Hey, Glasses guy!" A guy with low cut hair sprawls his hand over the window, with a mischievous grin on his face. The driver of the car is smoking a cigar while peering at us over his companion’s shoulders.
Ansel sighs, his jaws tightening, and I look from him to the anonymous car, curiosity etched on my features.
“Where’s your brother?” The guy in the passenger seat questions.
^A/N: Hey guys, if you like my story, please don’t forget to click the heart/like button at the bottom. It’d mean a lot to me, thanks. ILY!