Wolf's Lullaby

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Daniel

TARA

It had been two weeks since my two great revelations.

The first was that Ivan had an unrequited love for my best friend. He never told her, so he stayed in the glorified friend zone. Now he lost his marbles because of it since Mina started dating a guy from class.

Daniel.

The guy was cute. Average height, brown hair in a crew cut, striking amber eyes, sweet smile. Mina introduced him to us last week during lunch break. He didn’t stay with us for long; I thought it was because our blond friend’s aura oozed bloody murder.

Ivan and I sat at our usual spot near the sliding glass door overlooking the schoolyard as we talked about nothing in particular. He was playing with his food when I spotted Mina coming towards us with Daniel in tow.

He draped an arm over her shoulder as he squeezed her to his side. She hugged his waist as he whispered something in her ear. Mina giggled, slapping him on his chest. Both laughed, gazing at each other, love-stricken.

Daniel slid his arm from her shoulder, encircled Mina’s wrists with his hands, pulling her closer for a kiss.

At that exact moment, a French fry died a horrible death in Ivan’s hand. And his face? God, I never saw my happy-go-lucky friend so...so...I didn’t know how to describe the expression that crossed his features.

Pissed? Tortured? Horrified? Hopeless?

It flicked away to something neutral, but his whole body remained tense. Jaw locked tight, lips a flat line, eyes blank.

Jeez.

It hurt to watch.

“Hello, my babies!” Mina said as she and Daniel approached our table holding hands, their fingers entwined. She blew us a kiss, smiling widely.

“Hey, Minmin,” I said, wiggling my fingers at her, while Ivan gave her a small, tight smile.

“Hi. You must be Ivan and Tara. Nice to meet you,” Daniel said, grinning, shaking my hand.

“We must be,” Ivan responded as he took his hand and I swear I heard bones cracking as he squeezed it. Daniel looked almost unfazed except for a small subtle twitch of the corner of his lips, showing his discomfort. What a champ.

Ivan tried, but the smile he gave him? So tight he looked constipated.

“I heard so much about you guys,” Daniel added as he sat next to Mina across from us. His arm snaked around her shoulders, hand placed on her nape, rubbing circles absently over her skin. That small action drew my attention. It made me… uncomfortable. It didn’t seem loving, rather territorial.

Ivan’s jaw ticked, but the fake smile remained.

“So… you bit the bullet and decided to meet the family.” Ivan propped elbows on the table and clasped his hands, regarding Daniel with narrowed eyes.

I played along.

“Indeed. What are your intentions with our Mina?” I asked, mimicking Ivan’s pose.

Daniel peered at us, a tad confused. Mina just smiled and shook her head, amused by our antics.

“Is this where I ask for her hand in marriage or…” Daniel started.

“Whoa there, buddy! Hold thy horses!” I brought my palms up to stop him, laughing.

Ivan had the fakest smile on his face as he mumbled, “In your dreams.” But Daniel caught that as he glanced at him. Something flickered in his eyes I couldn’t quite decipher, then he shifted in his seat uncomfortably.

“I thought holding hands, going to the movies, and getting her back in time for curfew. But you went straight for the dragon! You must like her very much.” I cocked my brow at him, smirking.

“Beware, bud, you have competition.” Ivan said in a dark tone, smirking, his gaze intense as he regarded Daniel over his clasped hands, “Family is forever.”

There was a beat of silence where Daniel and Ivan stared at one another as if they waged a silent battle before a hesitant smile overtook Daniel’s face. Then Ivan tapped the table with his index finger and fell back in his chair. Jutting his chin at Daniel, he gave him an impish grin. “Relax. We won’t bite…. if unprovoked.”

“Okay guys, knock it off. You are making him uncomfortable! He is new to your crazy. Ease him in, gradually.” Mina laughed, cupping Daniel’s cheek. She turned his face to her, giving him a small peck on the lips. He smiled at her.

“Eh, prolonged exposure shall do the trick.” I smiled at him at the same time as Ivan whispered under his breath, “Don’t count on it.” I gave him a look and squeezed his thigh under the table. Trying telepathically to convey to him to behave.

A few seconds of silence ticked by, then Daniel looked at Ivan. “Mina tells me you dance together and that you’re very good. Your family must be so proud of you.” his voice was breezy, but something in his demeanor shifted. He straightened, smiling politely, though there was a glint in his eye, a taunt almost as fingers on Mina’s nape stopped rubbing circles. Ivan’s shoulders tensed and a muscle in his jaw twitched. It was like he hit a nerve.

“Yes, they are, thank you very much.” Ivan gritted out, pasting a smile on his face.

The two of them stared at one another for a few moments, then Daniel’s phone pinged. He got up as he read the message.

“Babe, I got to go look at the assignment I told you about,” he told Mina.

“Sure.” Mina said as he kissed her and turned towards us, a charming wide smile on his face. “It was really nice meeting you. See you.” Ivan and I gave him a wave.

“See you after classes, boo.” Mina smiled, shamelessly slapping his glut as he was leaving. He laughed, amused, blowing her a kiss, then waved at us as he left the cafeteria.

“So what’s the verdict on him, my favorite weirdos?” Mina asked, raising her perfectly manicured brow as she plopped down in her seat and took a healthy bite out of the apple she brought with her.

“Jury is still out,” Ivan said, his voice flat, staring at his plate while nibbling on a fry.

“What he said, but seems decent enough.” I shrugged while Ivan shot me a glare that said ‘Traitor’.

“Though we could have gone without you two sucking faces every few minutes, people are trying to eat here. Gross.” Ivan gestured at our food treys as he shuddered at the thought. He smiled so weakly it physically hurt me to see him try to play it off as a joke.

But I guess he fooled Mina.

“Shut up! We did not! And you, my friend, are no prude.” She laughed and took another bite of her apple, then said, “You gotta give him some credit though. He didn’t run for the hills immediately and you went all Papa Bear on his ass Ivan, not cool.” Pointing the apple in mock accusation at Ivan, Mina raised a brow.

Ivan snorted. “What? He’s gotta be able to take a little friendly threat before his expiration date.”

A beat of silence passed and then, “What’s that supposed to mean?” Mina frowned, irritated.

“Come on, you’ll get bored with the poor guy in a month or two. No need for us to get attached.” Ivan shrugged as he tossed a piece of bread in his mouth.

Mina took fries from his plate and threw a few at his face, “What crawled up your ass today?! You are being a dick! Has it occurred to you I might really, really like this guy and you are being an ass?!” Ivan’s expression shuttered.

“Do you?” He asked her after what seemed like a thousand years of tension stretched into eternity, his face serious.

“I might!” Mina screeched, then took a deep breath, shaking her head as she looked at the ceiling. “God, you can be overbearing sometimes!”

“Just looking out for you M. You can’t pick ’em to save your life.”

Mina snapped her eyes to his face and narrowed them. Leaning over the table, she pointed a finger at him, “Like you can talk-... Nope, not going there.” She bit her lip, holding her hands up in surrender. Crossing them over her chest, she leaned back in her chair. Her right eye twitched like it always did when she got annoyed.

The tension was palpable. You could cut it with a sword and I probably shouldn’t have wished I had popcorn to eat, right? I mean, did that make me a rotten friend? Probably. But it was a live soap opera right here, people!

“Minmin, you know we got your back. We’re always ready to smack some balls for ya.” I tried really, but I only got a half-assed smile.

After a few minutes of awkward silence, Ivan exhaled a shaky breath, rubbing his forehead, looking defeated.

“Sorry... I’m a little stressed these days... it’s no excuse. Shouldn’t have unloaded on you, M.”

Mina’s scowl fell as she took in his expression.

“No, you shouldn’t.” She said firmly, before her expression softened, “How’s Sonya?”

“Good, good, but she’s on indefinite bed rest for the duration of the pregnancy. Mom went there yesterday. I’ll go see her on the weekend. Her husband is out of the country, but the earliest he can come back is on Sunday, so...”

Ivan told us two days ago that his sister, who lives out of town, had some complications with her pregnancy. Which is not so uncommon while carrying triplets. They all freaked. It was to be expected.

Mina squeezed Ivan’s hand.

“It’s gonna be alright you’ll get your ass handed to you by your nieces and nephews in no time.” She patted his hand, smiling at him warmly. Then she got up and rounded the table, hugging him. His hands sneaked around her, and he hugged her back.

“God, those puppy dog eyes you throw at people when you fuck up could help you get away with murder, you know?” Ivan chuckled, almost reluctant to let her go as she pulled away from the hug.

She smiled softly at him, her palm resting on his cheek, and for the briefest of moments, her expression held something I had never seen on my friend’s face before.

Was that… longing?

She smoothed it down pretty quickly. And if you were not familiar with Mina, you would never catch that, but I knew her too well. Her smile widened, and she smacked his cheek playfully before she removed her hand from his face.

Ah… I think my friends might be idiots…

“I know. You would have killed me dead a hundred times by now, but you’re a sucker for my baby blues.” Ivan winked at her, that panty-dropping crooked smile playing on his lips.

Mina snorted and flicked his forehead. “Don’t push your luck.”

She passed around us, going to Lila and Clair’s table, giving us a little wave.

“See you later peeps, peace out!” She said over her shoulder, her little wave turning into a peace sign.

I turned to my lovesick friend, face blank, my voice that of a sports commentator before all the action starts, “Your powers of diversion and sad eyes are level 9000. Well played.”

“It’s a talent honed to perfection for four years.”

“Congratulations, my friend. The gaping chasm in your friendship averted.”

“I don’t like him T.”

“Sweetie, to be honest, no one would ever be good enough for her in your eyes.”

“True, but this guy is…. I can’t put my finger on it but…”

“Please don’t go anywhere near him with your fingers. Baby blues will only take you so far.”

“Can’t promise anything, Baby Sloth.”

There was a thing that bothered me though, “Hey, can I ask you something, and...you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but his comment about you dancing…” I trailed off, feeling like I might have been prying too much.

“Ah, you caught that…” he laughed mirthlessly.

“Sorry…”

“Nah, it’s fine. It’s not really a secret or anything. My family… I come from a military family.” Oh... I knew his brother was in the police force, but I didn’t ask about the rest of his family.

“My father, he well… lets just say he’s not that thrilled that I don’t really wanna follow the family tradition…”

“Oh…” that was all I could say, and I felt bad for bringing up an obviously sore subject.

Ivan shrugged, “It’s fine, really. No big deal,” he gave me a smile, but it was weak and didn’t reach his eyes. It betrayed everything. It wasn’t fine. He wasn’t fine...

That’s how the rest of the week flew by. Ivan was being moody every lunch break we had with Mina and Daniel. Bless his soul, he tried. Really tried to seem unfazed and less intimidating to the poor fella. The friendly banter and jokes seemed forced, like his smile. I kept an eye out for all black little notebooks he might carry in case one of those was a Death Note, and he might feel tempted to sign Daniel in one. None so far.

Daniel was cool enough, but he usually left early to go sit with his friends using various excuses, sometimes taking Mina with him. Can’t blame the guy for feeling unwelcome. It became like a routine at lunch. Ivan gave a snarky remark and I butt in to defuse a situation and we all awkwardly laugh at the end. Mina still hasn’t killed him, so that was a plus. She had been giving him a bit of leeway for his current high-stress situation at home, and he had fully taken advantage of that. The prick. He was running out of compassion points, so we would have to meditate or something to prevent his inner bitch from showing.

And the second revelation? Well, that was a genuine surprise.

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