12 Years Ago
Pete was giving her the silent treatment, the freaking silent treatment. He was acting like such an immature child. Natalie wanted to tell him so too, but well…she still felt bad. Sure, she hadn’t asked for him to ‘save’ her, and she definitely hadn’t wanted his help, but in the end he’d still gotten into trouble for her. Now he had a blemish on his permanent school record, something that might cost him the Ivy League education he’d been working so hard for.
“Look I’m sorry you got into trouble okay.” She said, hating the awkward silence. She shouldn’t really be apologising though, he’d done this to himself. “Are you going to say anything?” He shot her an annoyed look before turning back to his homework. No, apparently he wasn’t going to say anything. “Seriously Pete? Are you really going to give me the silent treatment? If you have a problem just say so, don’t act like a child.”
“I don’t have anything to say.” He said, his tone an even note.
“You’re acting like this is my fault.”
“It is Natalie.” He exploded. “I had a perfect record. Now I have six weeks of detention. This could cost me Yale.”
“I didn’t ask you to take the fall. I’m not some damsel who needs saving, and I didn’t want saving. I did what I did for me, and you took the fall for you. I’m not gonna feel guilty about it anymore. This isn’t my fault, so stop playing the victim.”
Pete blinked at her a couple times, surprised by her outburst. She never did this, she never snapped, she always kept it together. All good beauty queens do. She just couldn’t hold it in anymore. He opened his mouth to reply, probably to apologise, because while she was the beauty queen he was the good guy, and he always did the right thing. She just didn’t want to hear an apology right now. She wanted to be angry, at least for a while.
Before he could speak she turned on her heel and left, her anger driving her forward.
“Natalie what are you…” It was her mother speaking, she looked just as shocked as Pete had as Natalie brushed past her and slipped through the door. Natalie was not going to hear the end of this for a long while, but again, she didn’t care. She was even angrier with her mom than she was with Pete. Her mother was the reason she was here right now, forcing Natalie to thank and apologise the guy who’d ‘saved’ her.
Everyone was always making decisions for her, doing what they thought was best. No one ever asked her what she wanted, they all just assumed they knew.
“Ahhhhh.” She screamed, rounding a corner and stepping into the darkness. “Ahhh….”
Her scream was suddenly muffled by a hand clamping her mouth shut. It was strong, and steady, and for some reason she felt safe. Still, someone’s hand was muffling her screams and no one would be able to see her here in the dark, so she did what anyone would do in her situation. She bit down, hard, tasting blood.
“Ow, dammit.” Hissed a familiar low voice.
“Scott?” She asked, turning to face him. He was grasping his hand in pain, closely inspecting it for damage.
“I think you drew blood.” He whispered.
“What the heck are you doing sulking in the dark?”
“You need to keep your voice down?”
“The walls have ears.” He said, nodding toward an air vent at the bottom of the tall brick building. “Listen.” He gently wrapped his hand around her arm and pulled her toward the vent. Once they were close enough he let her go, and with a sigh slumped into the lawn chair he’d set up.
The air quietened around them, and she listened. A few seconds passed before she heard them, voices, ones that belonged to her mother and to Pete.
“What do you mean she just stormed out?” Her mom wanted to know.
“She’s upset.” Pete explained. “She doesn’t want to do pageants anymore. Its why she stole the equipment from the science lap. She wanted to get suspended because that way she’d no longer be eligible to compete.”
“Of course she wants to do pageants.” Her mom replied, not surprising Natalie in the least. She’d been told countless times now about Natalie’s desire to quit the pageant world, but she never listened.
To her mother, wanting the quit was inconceivable. Why would a pretty young girl with a natural affinity for beauty pageants want to quit? Why would she walk away from it all? Why would she want to give up the glamour, the prestige, the constant validation that she was beautiful every time she won another title?
Natalie had a million reasons, not one had been good enough for her mother, the former beauty queen now living vicariously through her 16 year old daughter.
“She doesn’t want to do it anymore Elena.” Pete repeated. “She could have gotten expelled today, that’s how desperate she is. Luckily I was there to stop it from happening, but what if I hadn’t been?”
“Augh.” Natalie scoffed. He was still acting like the hero. How much clearer did she have to be? She didn’t need, nor want, him to save her. Why did nobody get that? “Your brother’s an idiot.”
“Shhh.” Scott chastised, bringing his finger to his lips, the universal signal for hush.
“Can they hear us?” She asked, whispering this time.
“I dunno.” He said with a shrug. “Better to be safe than sorry. Come on.” He rose to his feet and grabbed her arm again, gently dragging her away. She went with him willingly, curious to know where he was taking her, what he wanted.
They passed the pool along the way, the lights illuminating the darkness, allowing her to see into the grand living room where Pete argued with his parents and Natalie’s mom.
Natalie and Scott kept walking, they walked right passed the pool and into the orchard. There, hidden behind the trees, Scott released her.
“Okay, now you can vent.” He said, waiting for her to start. Only she no longer felt like venting. The walk over and the steadiness of Scott’s hand around her arm had calmed her annoyance.
“I don’t think I need to anymore.” She said.
“No?” He asked, not buying it.
“No.” She confirmed.
“Luckily I was there to save her, but what if I hand’t been?” He said, doing a perfect imitation of his brother as he repeated Pete’s words back to her.
“Ahhh.” She exploded. “I don’t want to be a stupid beauty queen.”
“I figured as much.”
“I was out.” She continued. “I stole that science equipment and I made it so freaking easy for them to figure out it was me. And they did figure it out. I was sitting there, in the office, when in walks Pete. They were about to expel me. Yes, I’d have to find a new school but at least I wouldn’t have to compete in another stupid pageant.”
“You were never getting expelled.”
“You’re our beauty queen. If anyone’s gonna win the Inter-Town Beauty Pageant, it’s you. Our town wouldn’t give up the glory.” He paused a moment, and a disgusted expression came over his face, like he couldn’t believe he’d just said the words, Inter-Town Beauty Pageant. He quickly shook himself out of it before continuing. “You were stupid for stealing that science equipment, and Pete was stupid for taking the fall. Both acts resulted in nothing.”
“They would have had to expel me.” Natalie protested. “I shoved a thousand dollar microscope in my locker, they would have had to suspend me at least.”
“They would have given you detention, kept it all off your record. Why’d you make it so complicated anyway? Why not just, you know, not be in the pageant?”
“Everyone expects me to be in it. I promised I’d do it.”
“So I don’t want to let everyone down. Plus all I am to everyone is the Beauty Queen. That’s all they see when they look at me. Without it I’d be no one.”
“Then why try to get out of the pageant in the first place?”
“Because I hate being in pageants. I hate parading across a stage wearing silly outfits and doing silly routines and lying about what I really think when they ask those ridiculous questions, while the judges just sit there and decide how my beauty and ‘smarts’ stack up against everyone else.” She took a deep breath before continuing with her rant.
“This whole scheme was my way to get out without completely renouncing the one thing that makes me unique in this tiny town. I’d still be the beauty queen without actually being the beauty queen. I could slowly become the person I actually want to be, and when the next pageant rolled into town I wouldn’t have to pretend anymore. Everyone would get me. But if I just quit, well, no one would bother to notice me.”
“Oh they’d notice you.” He said, his voice low. Natalie met his eyes and she watched as his gaze slowly trailed down her body, taking in every curve, every inch of her, lingering on the places he liked more, places that began to tingle under the caress of his eyes.
Until that moment Scott had always been Pete’s younger brother, the football prodigy who didn’t give a damn about anything. He partied, had detention every other week and often a new girl draped around his arm despite the town’s small supply. He was abrasive, rude, foul-mouthed and hedonistic, always chasing a high. He was just Scott Garrison, everything Pete was not. Now he was Scott Garrison, the only boy who’d ever made her heart beat as fast as it was now. The only boy who ever would.