Playing With Fire

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ERIC

We left the theater about two hours later. Hawkins and his friends slunk off, leaving Kiera happier, and me more relaxed. It had been hard to concentrate on the movie when my muscles were so ridged. And of course, Hawkins was completely slack, sitting exactly one seat ahead of me. Even though I would never have admitted it to anyone else, I'd spent more time studying the back of his head then watching the movie.

"So, what are you guys doing tomorrow?" I asked as we stepped outside.

Kate smiled. "I'm going to a concert with John. One of his favourite singers is going to be there."

"Really?" Aria laughed, "I'm going too!"

"With who?"

She shrugged, "Just my grandparents."

Nick scratched his head and exchanged a look with Caleb. "That sounds cool. I'm not doing anything interesting tomorrow."

"But the fact that it's Saturday is good enough for me," Caleb said, smiling. "No homework!"

The girls nodded in agreement. "How 'bout you Ella?" Aria asked.

Suddenly whishing I hadn't brought up the subject, I bit my lip and shrugged as nonchalantly as I could manage.

"Nothing can mean a lot," Kiera stated. "Something always comes up anyway. I'll maybe go for a longer run or something."

We took a few more minutes of conversation, which was mostly spent listening to Nick, and then said our goodbyes and got into our own vehicles. Kiera took off my jacket and tossed it in the back seat. "Thanks for letting me borrow that."

"Sure." I started the car and pulled out onto the highway. "Thanks for saving me."

"Saving you?"

I made a right. "From having to mention... Eric." Although I knew full well I needed to accept it, I wasn't ready to tell anyone else.

Kiera shrugged. "Oh yeah. Anytime, babe." I nodded and we were silent for the rest of the ride. I dropped Kiera off at her house, and drove home.

Sydney was already in bed when I slipped through the door, and Tarry was watching TV in the living room.

Not wanting to be rude, I said, "Hi."

He looked over the chair and smiled. "How was the movie?"

"It was... good." I shrugged. I hadn't told Kiera about my distraction, I wasn't about to tell Tarry.

Tarry nodded and shifted his body so he was turned in my direction. "Are you sure tomorrow is okay? I know things are rough right now, but maybe it'll be good for you to meet Eric sooner than later."

"No. Yeah it's fine, Tar-dad," I swallowed hard. "How long is he going to be here?"

"Well he's coming in the morning around ten. So they'll probably leave late afternoon?"

"Uhh," I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose. "Do you think we can shorten it a little? I'm uhh... going out with Kiera at one o'clock." The lie didn't stick in my throat. I was too upset about meeting Eric and that brainless rule to care at the moment.

"Oh," Tarry sighed and studied me. "You don't think going out with Kiera can wait until next weekend?"

"Well," I searched for an excuses. "She has non-refundable gift cards for a... some kind of clothing shop that expire in two days."

I looked up at his confused face. "Non-refundable... oh. Yeah I guess we can do that then," he scratched his chin. "I'm sure he can come down again next week anyway."

"Probably," I shrugged and backed toward the stairs. "I'm going to go to bed, so... goodnight."

He nodded. "Have a good sleep."

I read twilight until it was finished, then stared at the sealing until my eyes slid shut in pure exhaustion. My dreams were filled with dark figures and forced mirages. When I woke, I'd broken out in a good sweat. Clammy and upset, I decided to take a shower. I set the water at a warm temperature, and stood in it for a little longer than necessary, then got out and changed into blue jeans and a white long sleeved shirt. I didn't want it to matter what I looked like. Eric didn't mean anything to me. So I just left my hair down, ignoring the fact that it sat in its own lightly curled make-up naturally.

As I opened my door, I heard voices. Confused, I leaned back in my room and squinted at the alarm clock. It read 10:13 a.m. and I just stared at it. I faintly heard Tarry call my name, and robotically left my room and descended the stairs. My heart was pounding by the time I reached the bottom. I intended to peak around the corner and have an idea of what I was facing, but they were all staring at me. Surprised, I sucked in a gasp, bit my lip hard so I would have something else to concentrate on, and stepped off the last step.

The first person I saw, was a woman with short blonde hair, and blue eyes. She was standing beside a taller man, who looked very distinguished in a dark jacket and black dress pants. He was blonde as well, but grey streaked his hair just above his ears, and creases lined his eyes. A little reluctantly, I then looked at the younger boy standing just off to the side of his parents. Eric, like his parents, had blonde hair and blue eyes. He was slightly shorter than his tall father, but he looked much stronger. His frame was full and muscled. My mind was comparing him to another body. A lankier one, but I couldn't figure out who's. I realized he was about six feet, and according to the person my brain was comparing him to, he was about one inch shorter. I refused to look Eric, or his parents, in the eyes, afraid it would be too much and I'd run upstairs in panic.

"Ella," Tarry stepped into view. His eyes were warm, and I took comfort in them. They were the only pair of eyes I recognized. I hadn't even seen Sydney, and I guessed she was in her room. Secretly, I wished she was here. Her presence would have dampened the thick feeling of fear and nervousness in the room. Tarry motioned to Eric's parents, "This is Anthony and Erin Alistar," he said.

Anthony nodded at me and extended his hand. "Pleased to officially meet you, Ellamae."

I tried to hide my unwillingness as I took his hand. He gave mine a gentle shake, and smiled down at me. It was obvious he was trying to take the pressure off, but it made little difference to me.

"Yes, it's going to be wonderful to get to know you," Erin murmured, offering a gentle curve of her lips.

Nodding would have been ideal, but I couldn't bring myself to do the motion. Reluctantly, I turned toward Eric. He was staring at me. His intense blue eyes took me in, and I watched as those eyes traveled the whole length of me. If he would have kissed me I would have felt better. This was much more intimate.

"Hello, Ellamae." His voice was deep, and he tipped his head slightly as he said my name.

"We'll be in the living room," Tarry said. "You two can join us, or whatever you want." He smiled and left with Erin and Anthony right behind him.

I felt naked. Alone, afraid, and completely lost. I would have rather been with anyone else at the moment. Even Hawkins. The thought hit me like a wrecking ball. That was who I'd been comparing Eric to. Hawkins.

"So," Eric scratched the back of his neck. "You look... really nice."

Shocked, I didn't catch myself in time before I frowned.

He looked more nervous suddenly, his cool look gone. "I'm sorry. This is harder than I thought."

I nodded and tried to loosen my limbs by sitting down on the stairs. This was so hard.

He motioned toward the stairs beside me. "Mind if I?"

Shifting my weight, I shrugged.

Eric sat down next to me. "It would help if you said something."

"Sorry," I muttered. "What should I say?"

He smiled. "You have a nice voice."

"Thanks?"

"Believe me, I'm just as nervous about this as you are," he said. I doubt that, I thought. How could he feel the same way I did? He'd grown up knowing this would happen. I'd only known about it for a few days. "So this is going to be interesting."

"Yeah, I guess it will," I shrugged and looked away to hide my frown.

"I have friends who've been through it, and they say it worked out just fine."

"Maybe for them. Everything works out so angelically all the time, why shouldn't this?" I knew I shouldn't have said that, but I couldn't bring myself to regret it either.

Eric's laugh surprised me and I turned to look at him. A grin was planted on his face. "Are you always like this?"

"Like what?"

"Negative."

I looked at him for a moment. "I fail to see how you find that funny."

He laughed again and said, "You're so serious. Lighten up, okay?"

Unable to think of a good reply, I shrugged. "Okay."

He chuckled and propped his chin on his fist. "So what do you have up today? Besides... this," he gestured to himself.

"Umm, I'm going shopping with a friend."

"Which friend? Maybe I know her?"

I shook my head. "I doubt it. Kiera Crowe."

Eric tipped his head forward on his fist and rubbed his eyebrow in a thoughtful stance. "Yeah, you're right. I don't know her." He looked back over to me. "What do you like to do? For fun?"

I thought for a moment. What did I like to do? The question should have been easy, but for me it wasn't. I didn't know myself well enough. "I'm not sure. Read?"

"You don't know?" he cocked and eyebrow.

"Yeah. So what?" I meant to be polite, but it came out more of a demand. My defences were pushing though.

Eric shrugged a few times, looking uncertain. "I- I don't know. I'm just... making conversation I guess. If we knew each other even from school or something, this wouldn't be so hard."

I nodded in agreement. "What do you do for fun?" I asked, hoping he would have a better answer then I had.

"I like to build things," he said, seeming a little more confident. "My dad has a shop I work in."

Eric was better at answering questions then I was, so I kept asking him things. His ideas were different then mine, but he seemed like a nice person.

"-and then he accused me of eating it! As if I'd ever touch that! That's like asking me to lick snot off a pig's nose!" his expression was ridiculous, and my lips tugged up instinctively, and a laugh bubbled up my throat. He stopped mid sentence and stared at me.

Suddenly self conscious, I stiffened. "What?"

He stared at me. "You smiled. Better yet, you laughed! That puts another check on my list." He smiled fully, making a check sign in the air.

"Check on your list? You have a list?" I asked, confused.

"Yup," he leaned forward slightly. "I want you to be happy Ellamae. For now, I want to be good friends."

"Ella," I corrected him. "If we have lists, where does that put me?" I wondered.

He rubbed his chin. "Well, I smiled the first time I saw you, laughed long before you did, told you lots of embarrassing stories... I think you're at like, fifteen. And I'm at five."

"So I'm winning?"

He sighed. "I suppose. But I intend to change that," his smile brightened.

I narrowed my eyes. "You got me to smile and laugh... I think that puts you at maybe three."

"Three?" he squinted at me. "I worked hard for that."

I offered him a grin. "I guess you'll just have to work harder."

He laughed and made another check in the air. "That's four. It's on!"

As I listened to Eric chat, I couldn't help but smile. Kiera had been right, he was a good person for me. But the truth was: I didn't want to marry. I didn't want to fall in love with him. I wanted to find love myself, like Edward and Bella. And I wanted to do it my way, free, not chained up to someone else's judgment. Eric and I may become good friends, I had no doubt about that, but I needed to find a way to stop this before it went too far. Before I ended up hurting someone else. This wasn't what I wanted, and I wasn't about to let a rule change that.


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