Chapter 21

- Tobias -

"Remind me again why we can't work at your house?"

"Because Caleb and Joseph are working there. And it's weird if we're working on the same project at the same place."

"No, it's not," I mutter as I heave another shovelful of snow out of the way.

Tris plants her shovel in the snow and huffs irritably. She takes off her gloves to sweep the hair out of her eyes. The falling snow has dampened it so that it's plastered against her face, which, I can only guess, is annoying.

"Are you complaining? Might I remind you that I'm the one helping you shovel your driveway."

I roll my eyes. "I know…" I don't argue that I had insisted she stay inside.

The weather has been warm this past week and the snow had been melting steadily. Of course, when the ground is finally clear of slush again, we get another wave of fluffy white snowflakes to cover it up again.

Tris doesn't ask why I shovel the driveway even though I clearly don't use it. I'm glad she doesn't. Maybe she already knows I'm not doing it for Marcus. I'm only doing this because it's my responsibility. Marcus mows the lawn in the summer and I shovel the snow in the winter. We're like roommates with assigned chores.

Since Tris and I decided to work on our chemistry project after school, I was hoping to use that excuse to escape the task. But Caleb and his partner are working there and according to Tris, this means we can't work there.

And so, we both ended up at my house, clearing the driveway before we start on our project.

"It's better if we work at your house. That way, you won't get distracted by Anton," Tris jests.

"You mean you won't get distracted."

After work on Sunday, we ended up binge watching that vampire show Tris kept talking about—Nefarium—starting from the very first episode for my sake. I hate to admit it but the show is different, and much better than I expected. The main protagonist, Anton, is charismatic but also dark and in many ways, evil, which makes him an interesting character. Of course, I'm not obsessed with him the way Tris is.

Tris isn't the type of girl that openly gushes about guys—fictional or real—but she's not immune to being a fangirl either. She doesn't get overly excited whenever the rest of our friends talk about Nefarium like Marlene does, but you can tell from the way she listens intently that she's quite fond of the show—and its male lead. I find her fondness for Anton both endearing and aggravating.

I take off my glove to wipe my brow. I can't tell if I'm sweating or if it's just wet from the snow hitting my face.

I glance at Tris, her back is to me as she scoops the snow. The corners of my lips lift as I place my shovel on the ground, grabbing a large handful of snow as I straighten up. I silently stalk towards her, mildly aware that she's humming an unfamiliar tune under her breath. I pull at the hood of her jacket and swiftly dump the snow down her back.

She shrieks as the cold meets her back and her shoulders lift up to her ears. I step back, laughing as she turns around and drops her shovel with a loud clank.

"You jerk!" She shouts, bending down to pick up some snow.

I bolt away, towards the backyard, as I hear her bullet whiz past my ear.

"Get back here!"

"Never!" I shout back, a grin splitting my face.

I make it to the backyard, running as fast as I can despite the snow that reaches halfway to my knees. The snow hinders Tris' movements even more because of her height, allowing me to put a fair amount of distance between us. I grab another handful of snow and whirl it at her while she does the same.

She laughs, her voice tinkling, even though it hits her on the arm. "I'll get you for that!"

"No you won't!" I taunt, trying to get more snow and dodge her snowball at the same time.

Our voices are loud in the crisp winter air as we trudge through the snow, our footprints ruining the flawless blanket of white. I hurl another snowball at her again as one hits me squarely on the shoulder, disrupting my aim. Both of us forget what we're supposed to be doing as we pelt snow at each other, laughing and shouting at one another.

Tris kicks at the snow, causing a bombardment of white flurries to fly in my direction.

"Hey!" I cry, putting my arms out to block them from my face.

She takes advantage of my distraction to tackle me to the ground, and we fall with a small thump, sending more snow into the air.

Blonde hair spills around my face and tickles my neck. Our limbs are in a tangled mess as she hovers above me, her cheeks a pretty pink against her pale skin. My heart begins to race from more than just our snowball fight.

Her grey-blue eyes stare back at me innocently and the tiny snowflakes caught on her lashes shimmer when she blinks. The wisps of our breaths mingle between us and the warmth draws my attention to her lips. Soft and slightly parted. She's so close.

My hands move tentatively, reaching for her cheek. But before they get there, a handful of snow meets my face.

I hear Tris laughing and feel her roll off me.

"That's not very nice," I grumble, blowing the snow out of my face. I attempt to wipe the snow away, but my gloves are wet and only make it worse.

"You're not very nice either."

I turn my head to the side and see her lying beside me. Her head tilted towards the sky, her eyes closed, and her lips in a smile.

I smile too.

I don't know if she felt it, what I felt just now. But I'm almost certain she's not unaffected by whatever the hell's happening between us these days. If anything, the way we held hands the other day is an indication she feels something. Clearly, best friends just don't hold hands like that, right?

Still, I'm not entirely sure, and I also worry about Tris' intimacy problem. I recall our conversation on Halloween. I know she doesn't have that problem with me, but I can't help thinking that if things shift too quickly between us—too unexpectedly—she will. And I don't want that to happen—I don't want her to be afraid of me.

Tris sits up abruptly, rubbing the back of her head, and mumbles, "cold."

I can't help laughing at the childlike display.

She turns and narrows her eyes at me, but I just grin back at her.

"Come on, we need to finish cleaning the driveway. And do that chemistry project." Tris stands and brush the snow off her jeans. Then she offers me a gloved hand.

I sigh as I take it. "Chemistry…" I groan.

Tris chuckles as we head back to the front of the house. We continue shoveling the driveway, no longer goofing around, mostly because we're both freezing from our snow-soaked clothes.

By the time we finish and enter the house, we're both shivering. Tris' hair is damp and frizzled. I get a fluffy white towel from the linen closet and place it on her head, ruffling playfully.

"Thanks," Tris laughs, taking the towel from me.

"You should probably change too, or else you'll catch a cold."

"And whose fault would that be?" She turns to show me the dark patch on the back of her sweater.

"Your fault for being such an easy target."

I grab some old clothes from my closet and hand it to her before getting my own set of clothes and leaving the room. I close the door on my way out and go to the washroom to change.

When I get back to my room, Tris is standing by my bookshelf, flipping through a video game magazine. My grey T-shirt is too long, almost reaching her knees, and the sweatpants are baggy on her. She must have folded them a good number of times to get them to fit. The sight of her makes my blood rush to my face, and I duck into the closet before she can notice it. She looks ridiculous wearing my clothes, but I can't deny there's something awfully attractive about it too.

I take out a black poster board from the back where I keep my extra school supplies. We're supposed to make a visual display about the various types of organic reactions, or something. I actually haven't read the assignment sheet yet.

"Why do you have this?"

I drop the board in the middle of my room and look up at Tris as she pulls out a spiral-bound notebook from the shelf.

"I don't know."

I recognize the old booklet I used for our grade 2 English class. I don't know why I kept it because I never keep any of my other school work. And I don't know why every time I see it, I decide to slot it back on the bookshelf instead of throwing it out.

I remember the assignment we did when we were little. I was proud of myself because I did well on it, but to keep it with me for all these years is unreasonable. I can't answer her question because I'm not sure why I have it either. But now that Tris is holding it in her hands, I feel nervous. I had written about her back then, and it's stupid how embarrassed I feel about it. It's not as if I'd written a love letter.

Tris opens the notebook and idly flips through it. I walk over and casually take the notebook out of her hands.

"We should get to work," I say calmly, despite the panic in my veins.

She arches an eyebrow and grins at me, evidently amused by my eagerness to start our project.

I feign innocence and put the notebook back in place. Tris' gaze follows my movements before falling upon another item on my bookshelf. She curiously pulls the thick album out and opens it to the first page. Her eyes immediately soften as she sees the photographs.

"This is the album you talked about it?" Tris asks.

"Yeah… there are others. I put the box in my closet."

I haven't looked through all of them yet. It's overwhelming to see them because they constantly remind me of the happier childhood I could have had. What if my mother hadn't died? What if my father hadn't suffered that grief? Would I have had a better family?

Tris nods, turning her attention back to the album with a wistful smile. I watch as she looks through them, and I suddenly realized that if things hadn't happened the way they did, I might not be as close to Tris as I am now. I would not have been at the Prior's house as often as I had, and Tris might not have ended up as my best friend.

I always imagine what life could be like if my family was full and happy like the Priors. Now, I feel conflicted to consider that in that life, Tris might not be there with me. I would not be willing to trade Tris for that ideal family, but if I did have that ideal family, I'm not sure I'd be willing to trade it for her either.

But it's so silly to think of things that way, because the reality is that I could have had neither. And for the first time, I'm grateful that when the heavens decided to take away my mother and, in some ways, my father, they gave me Tris instead.

Tris glances at me before looking down at the album again.

"Look." She points to a photograph of me at the zoo. I was probably three then. There are giraffes in the background as I smile and wave at the camera.


"You were so cute back then," she says smiling at the image. Then she looks at me and her brow furrows. "What happened?"

"Excuse me?"

Tris wrinkles her nose, shaking her head in mock disappointment.

"I'm still cute," I argue, smiling despite the depressing thoughts I was just having. I let her lighten the mood between us. The alternative would be for her to talk about how sad it is that my mother is no longer with us, and I don't need that. And perhaps Tris knows that too.

"Of course." Tris rolls her eyes. "You're adorable." She returns the album to the bookshelf, picks up her backpack from where she left it earlier, and settles in front of the display board.

I sit beside her, leaning my back against the foot of my bed. I can't stop myself from grinning as I nudge her in the shoulder.

"Thanks," I reply shamelessly. "You're pretty cute yourself."

She turns to me with wide eyes and rosy cheeks. "I was being sarcastic."

"So was I."

"I'm just gonna ignore you," she says, shaking her head.

"You better not, or I'll give you an F and write that you were 'uncooperative' on that partner evaluation sheet."

She scoffs and takes out a pencil from her bag, shoving it in my hands. "Anyway," she stresses in an attempt to change the subject. "I was thinking…"

Tris explains the ideas she has for our poster board, oblivious to how the collar of my shirt is threatening to slip off her shoulder. I add in my opinions while I make a rough sketch of our display on scrap paper. When I look up again, I catch her staring at me for a moment too long. She blushes again and looks away hurriedly, and a dopey smile forms on my face.

I'm so sorry for the delay! I was busy for the past few days and didn't have enough time to do the last edit for this chapter. There were a few gaps I needed to fill in before I post it up. My writing schedule is wacky so I don't know when the next update will be. I haven't been keeping up with reading fanfics either. I really need to get back into the Divergent fandom. :\

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the US! (: