Chapter 18: It's the wedding glow
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you.
- Maya Angelou
“Hello?” I asked with as much suspicion as possible.
“Crystal?” Max asked.
“Nope. Mars-earth headquarters number 576. I am agent 322 speaking.” I stated.
There was silence for just a moment, then, ”I know this is you, crystal.”
“Then why did you ask?” I retorted.
“Your sarcasm is back. Which means you are not stumbling around colliding with random people.” He said.
“So touched by your concern.” I drawled.
“I need your help.” He said in a more serious tone.
“Yeah?” I asked him while glancing at the wall clock; dinner would be ready in 15 minutes.
“Can you come to my house? It’s a little urgent.” Max replied.
I could hear the frustration underlined in his tone. Normally I would have run to any friend’s help the moment they asked for it, but today I had skipped out lunch and I was not too eager to skip dinner too.
“It’s about Leah. Please.” Max pleaded.
Okay, no delays now. I jumped out of my seat and made puppy dog eyes at mom. She looked at me questioningly.
“I’ll have to go,” I whispered to her.
She glanced at the clock, sighed then spoke, “Be back in an hour and a half. No more than that.”
I nodded obediently.
“I’m coming,” I replied to Max.
“Oh, thank God.” Max sighed.
I climbed the stairs to my room and pulled on skinny jeans.
“I will send a car to your house. Will you be ready in 15 minutes?” max asked.
I stuffed my feet into my converse and pulled my hair up into a messy bun.
“I am ready. It’s okay I will take the bus.” I told him.
He started to protest but I cut the call and quickly washed my face. Grabbing my sling bag, I bolted out of the door.
I reached max’s house in a record 20 minutes. The elevator led me exclusively to max’s penthouse. Before I could buzz the intercom, the door opened revealing a smirking Sam.
“Crystal!” Sam smirked. Oh god, I really wanted to see any other reaction from his face.
“Let’s have sex, Sam,” I told him in a serious tone while looking him up and down. He gaped at me.
“Finally a reaction other than a smirk,” I replied cheerily as I stepped inside the penthouse and slid my shoes off.
“Wait, you were joking?” Sam asked incredulously.
“Duh,” I scoffed as Sam started pouting.
There were many shoes in max’s foyer. I entered the living room and tried to access the scene in front of me.
Damon was lying on the couch, Gale was foraging in the refrigerator and Beth was sulking with a huge bowl of ice cream.
And there was April, sitting perfectly on the couch with her designer ripped jeans and a red crop top busy typing something on her iPhone.
“Look, who came!” Sam exclaimed beside me.
Everybody turned towards us in unison. I gave them a two-finger salute.
“Who called you?” sneered April.
Damon beamed at me and Beth shoved another spoon of ice cream into her mouth with gleaming happy eyes.
“Crystal. You are the only hope left.” Gale said in a solemn voice.
Max entered looking defeated. As soon as he saw me, he perked up. Turning towards the direction he had come from, he called out, “Leah! Crystal’s here.”
“What is happening?” I asked everybody slowly.
Before max could form a sentence Leah came crying. The moment she saw me she started crying louder. Everybody groaned in unison.
“Even Crystal didn’t work,” Sam muttered and Damon slammed his head back on the couch.
Leah came running towards me and before she could collide with my legs, I swiftly raised her in my arms. Her blue eyes were red and full of tears and her pink nose was running. She looked so sad that I just wanted to cry with her. Her small arms went around my neck and she buried her face in my chest, sobbing loudly.
“It’s alright. I am here now. No need to cry, Leah.” I softly murmured as I patted her back soothingly.
She continued sobbing. Her small body quivered so badly.
“Why is she crying?” I asked max.
He looked at Leah longingly before replying, ”Her doll fell face-first into my palette of red oil paint. The color is stuck to her face.”
“I hate max,” Leah screamed before continuing to cry.
Max looked truly devastated. He ran a hand through his dark hair messing it up again and turned his face away from everybody. April moved towards him.
“We can get you a new doll,” April replied in a pissed off tone.
Max glared at the tone she used. The girl was oblivious to any other species of living beings except cute boys.
“Jenny was going to marry ken. You can’t buy me a new doll. I want jenny!” Leah screamed with tears in her eyes.
Beth groaned and sank her head on her folded arms atop the dining table. Gale went to calm her.
“Nobody understands me! Jenny will not look like a princess on her wedding day.” Leah sobbed. I held her closer and patted her back.
“It’s okay I will do something. Your jenny will look as beautiful as before.” I assured her.
“Really?” she sniffled and looked up at me with watery blue eyes.
If she had asked me to murder somebody, I would have done that too willingly.
“Of course. And even if she doesn’t look perfect she will still be your jenny, right?” I asked Leah in a soft tone. Leah slowly nodded.
“Go and get jenny. We will do something.” I told her as I placed her down. She grinned at me and ran towards her room. I went to the kitchen.
“Morons, I need your help,” I announced.
Everyone perked up at the prospect of doing something useful. Except for April who rolled her eyes and sat back on the couch
“Get me some baking soda, some lemons, bleaching powder, and coca-cola.” I told them as I pushed the sleeves of my grey sweatshirt up to my elbows.
Everybody moved except April who just sat there glowering at me. Leah came running with a blonde Barbie doll that had a red face.
“How long was she covered in paint?” I asked Leah.
“A whole day,” Max replied as he placed a bottle of bleach on the table. Leah glowered at him.
“How did she end up in the paint?” I asked him as I took a dishcloth and dipped it in the bleach.
“Leah was playing in my studio and she left her doll there. The next day when I went back, her doll was lying face down in the palette.” Max replied while he glanced at Leah who avoided looking at his face.
He really loved her and seeing her hurt was just making him harried. He did not have his poker face on and his hair was disheveled. The fact that Leah mattered so much to him touched my heart.
“It was Leah’s fault?” I asked as I turned to look at her.
She puffed her cheeks out, ”max left his paint open.”
“Leah say sorry to your brother,” I told her sternly.
“But why…” she whined.
“Whose mistake was it that the doll ended up in his studio? Did he call you in there?” I asked her as I tried to rub the doll’s face.
“He told me not to enter that room” Leah replied in a timid voice.
“Then why are you blaming him? Look, you hurt him by saying that you hate him.” I told her in the tone my sister used to use.
“But I don’t hate maxy.” Leah said tears brimming in her eyes again.
I smiled softly at her. She turned to max and hugged him, ”I am sorry maxy.”
Max looked at me gratefully as he picked Leah up and squeezed her tightly. He continued to soothe her while the others and I tried all types of things on the doll’s face.
Finally, the paint faded to reveal a baby pink color on the doll’s face. Everybody was staring intently at my work. I regarded the doll for a few seconds. If I had tried doing anything else, I was afraid that I would rub her eyes and lips off.
“There! She is good as new.” I declared. Leah picked her doll up frowning.
“But, she is pink,” Leah mumbled.
“Oh, that’s the wedding glow. She is shy.” I told Leah. Leah looked barely convinced.
“That’s the most I could do Leah. I am sorry.” I sighed. She looked up at me then back at her doll’s face.
“If ken really loved jenny then he won’t mind jenny’s new color,” I said offhanded knowing very well that she would take the bait.
“Ken loves jenny a lot.” Leah defended.
“Then he won’t mind, would he?”
“No, he will not!” Leah firmly told.
I smiled at her and she beamed at me. Max was watching both of us with an amused smile on his face. When I met his eyes, I saw a flicker of emotion in them before it was gone.
“Thank you, crystal,” Leah said as she hugged my knees.
I lifted her up and she gave me a sweet kiss on the cheek before settling her head on my shoulder.
All the morons were staring at me as if I had just achieved something great.
“How come Leah is so sweet to crystal?” Beth broke the stunned silence. Everyone nodded in unison.
“I don’t know. Leah just liked her from the start.” Max shrugged as he moved all the ingredients back into their places and cleaned the table.
“Not hard to guess. Crystal really is that beautiful.” Damon chimed in.
I rolled my eyes at him as I started patting Leah’s back softly. Her eyes were drooping and she already looked sleepy.
“Whatever.” April muttered as she flipped her wavy blonde hair.
Beth was glowering at April and gale was busy munching on a container of Pringles.
“She just acted like a nanny. Probably from the days she has spent babysitting to meet her ends.” April haughtily replied.
“Oh shut up, April,” Beth growled.
I moved towards the glass wall in the living room. Everybody followed me into the living room dropping one by one on the couch.
“Yeah, I used to babysit kids,” I told April. She smirked as if she proved a point.
”I used to spend most of my time playing with kids in orphanages.” I continued.
Damon looked at me in surprise and Sam gave a low whistle. Gale stood up to pat my shoulder proudly.
“What?” I asked them confused. I seriously did not understand any of them.
“You actually used to spend your time with orphans?” Beth asked in surprise.
I just shrugged and moved towards the glass wall. You could see the Brooklyn Bridge from here and beyond that, the twinkling lights of Manhattan.
I started humming a lullaby that Camilla used to sing for me. Leah fell asleep instantly. Everybody else was talking about going out for dinner while April was busy throwing insults at Beth and me. I kept humming the sweet tune.
Camilla used to sing to me every time I had trouble falling asleep. She would read a book and keep singing to me until I fell asleep on her lap, her fingers combing my hair.
“What are you singing?” max asked in a low voice. His citrusy smell giving him away before his voice.
“It’s a lullaby,” I told him.
“Sing it out loud,” Max said as he completely turned towards me.
Maybe it was because I felt like Camilla was with me that I started singing the lullaby. Camilla loved singing. Compared to her my voice was nothing, but this lullaby even made my plain voice sound melodic. As I finished the last verse while staring at the Manhattan skyline, I realized that everyone had grown quiet.
“Wow, that was so good. Did you write it?” gale asked.
I shook my head, "Camilla used to sing it to me.”
“Who?” Beth asked. I clamped my lips together. They barely knew anything about me.
“Camilla, my elder sister. She wrote this lullaby.”
“How old is she?” sam asked, ”I mean, crystal does not give me any attention. At least her sister would be a little easy to win.”
Damon laughed at that and April rolled her eyes. Max was staring intently at me already aware of the sadness that had crept into my eyes.
I turned back towards the Manhattan skyline and stated, “she’s dead.”
The laughter in the room came to an abrupt halt.
“I am so sorry, crystal,” Sam muttered looking guilty.
I shrugged and gave him a small reassuring smile, “Don’t be. You didn’t know that.”
“let’s have dinner. I know a really good place.” Damon said breaking the awkward silence that had befallen the room. Beth jumped and Gale followed.
“I am not coming. Leah and I already had dinner.” Max told everybody.
Beth turned to me and I shook my head, “I am going to have dinner with my mom.”
It was about an hour and a quarter since I had arrived here. Damon gave me a long look before going out of the penthouse.
“Max, won’t you drop me back home?” April asked sweetly.
“Leah will be all alone here,” Max said as he moved out to punch the code for the elevator to open.
“She’s here,” April said while referring to me.
“She has to go home too,” Max replied as the elevator doors opened.
“Thanks for coming everybody. Even though you did not help and Gale and Beth finished everything in my refrigerator.” Max stated.
“Gale dragged me here.” Beth retorted as she punched gale’s arm.
“Leah said only girls could understand!” Gale retorted back.
April glared at me one last time before the elevator doors closed. I moved inside the penthouse and max followed.
He took Leah in his arms and tucked her in her bedroom. Her bedroom had blue and lilac colors with a painting of her on the wall above the bed. Max placed her on the bed, drew the blanket around her shoulder, and kissed her forehead.
“I love you, Leah.” He murmured so softly that it was too difficult to hear.
He held on to her hand for a while before turning the lights off leaving only a few dim sconces on.
“How were you ready when I called you?” max asked once he closed the door to Leah’s bedroom.
“I just pulled some jeans on and tied my hair.” I shrugged.
He stared at my face for a few seconds before raising an eyebrow, ”you did not do any makeup?”
I frowned at him, ”I am sorry but this was not a party. So why should I apply makeup?”
Both his eyebrows were raised and he just kept looking at my face.
“Still you came pretty quickly.” He said finally.
The lights in the corridor were dim throwing shadows on his face.
“You said it was urgent.”
He nodded slowly then moved towards me until there was barely an inch between us. His eyes had turned dark, the glacial blue now almost a deep night sky. I looked up at him as his citrus and minty smell made me dizzy. I loved that smell.
“Can I kiss you?” he asked in a low husky voice.
My brain short-circuited. What? Who...I...why …what?
I blinked at him sure that I did not hear him correctly the first time. He advanced on me until I was pressed against the wall. His strong arms rose on either side of my head caging me in. His mouth slowly descended over mine.
My heart was beating wildly and max’s scent was very overwhelming me. He came close enough that our noses touched and his lips were a centimeter away from mine.
I breathed in deeply to control my skittering hormones but all it resulted in was filling my head with his smell.
“You didn’t answer me. Can I kiss you?” he asked as his velvet lips brushed against mine with every word.
Heat coursed through my entire body and Goosebumps rose on my arms. I was breathing heavily and my heart started as if it was the first time it learned to beat in my chest.
He was not touching me but he was surrounding me. I stared at his full lips and felt a strong urge to just bite the luscious flesh.
“Answer me, crystal.” He growled and his voice ran a spark of heat straight through my core before making my whole body tingle in anticipation.
I clamped my thighs tightly. Answer him? Hell, I could not form a coherent sentence if I wanted to. His lips moved away from my mouth and I could breathe a bit properly even though waves of disappointment coursed through me.
However, max did not disappoint me entirely. His nose traced a slow lazy pattern from the side of my mouth to the spot just below my ear. He breathed in deeply and my back arched thrusting my chest into his hard-muscled one.
“Say yes.” He whispered in the same husky voice as his warm breath filled my ears.
My heart was thundering in my ears. He slowly turned back towards my lips. His eyes were wild and his hair was falling against his forehead. I imagined my fingers running through them, pulling at them.
I was ready to kiss him if he did not do anything. Finally, his eyes lowered to my lips and I bit my lower lip. His eyes turned almost black now and he groaned softly.
Just as he was about to kiss me my mobile started ringing loudly. Shakira’s ‘waka waka’ started playing at a very loud volume.
I jerked away from him startled and he moved just an inch back, irritated at the ringtone. Scrambling, I pulled my mobile out.
Mom was calling.
Max saw the name on my mobile and moved to give me some space. I quickly moved away from him towards the living room.
“Hey, mom,” I replied a little breathlessly.
“Crystal? Are you okay?” mom asked concerned.
“Yeah, I am fine. I am coming home in 15 minutes. Don’t worry.”
“Oh okay. Did I interrupt something?” Mom asked. Yes, yes you did mom.
“No. I was just about to come home.” I told her. Behind me, I felt max move towards me. Shock waves started running through my body.
“Good. Get into a taxi. It’s too late for the bus.” Mom said.
“It’s not,” I replied haughtily but agreed with her and ended the call. When I turned back, max was standing behind me.
“I have to go. I am getting late. Bye.” I told him while looking at his shoulder and then back towards the door.
Heat was steadily creeping to my face and it would not be long before my olive tone turned into bright red.
“Oh, okay. Should I call my driver-"max started but I interrupted him “no, that’s fine. I’ll go home.”
Max was silent for a few minutes before he moved out of the house and pressed the code for the elevator. I quickly gathered my sling bag and marched into the open elevator all the while avoiding looking at him.
“Crystal…” max started.
“Goodnight max,” I told his feet and then looked up at him and gave him a bright smile.
He looked confused and disappointed. When the doors closed, I sank against the elevator walls.
What just happened? I had seen so many girls becoming gooey chocolate in front of max and I never understood how.
Now I knew. Max was too good. A small part of my brain argued that he actually liked me but I quickly shut it up. Max still roamed around in school with a different girl clinging to him every day. Kissing girls might as well be a hobby to him.
Besides I was sure he was about to have quite a night with April if I had not interrupted. Sighing, I left the building and reached home.
I barely ate my dinner properly and tried my best to hide the pain my headache was giving me.
It would go. I was sure about that.
Nothing lasted too long for me.
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