..maybe I'm predominantly stuck in 2010 but I really like 30H!3. And I also love The Lunar Chronicles. And for some reason I was listening to the band and thinking of TLC and henceforth I came up with a Cresswell oneshot based on the song "I'm Not Your Boyfriend, Baby" which is also the title of this fic. Because...yeah. Some of the lyrics of the song don't fit? At all? I basically wrote this fic based on the bridge of the song, so ahem, if anyone wants to hear the song they're welcome to but it's not really a couple-y song. So. I tried to make this meaningful and nice but it turned out really weird and rushed and sort of abrupt, so...after my Iko/Kinney oneshot I was thinking I want to try and write one for every TLC ship of mine, so Cresswell came next! To be honest, at first I was going to skip over Cresswell but I know there was the hubaballo on Tumblr about people called racist for liking Cresswell, and I'll admit, I don't see how it is but I do know that it's the most popular ship, which is why it's seen as idealizing a white heteronormative standard but to me they're just my children. So y'know. I do love Cresswell, even if they're a bit overdone. Please excuse the rambling I don't know what I'm doing with my life anymore I just really, really want to spend every second of my summer writing before I start college because then I think I'll take a hiatus from fic writing
The gritty street under Carswell Thorne's face is a bit sticky, though it's probably his blood that makes it that way.
"Fellas," he laughs, anxiously, "Can't we not do this? My face is all I've got. The real moneymaker. Can't we talk about it, or y'know, rationalize-"
The thud of a boot makes his head smash right back into the pavement and he groans, feeling the same bruised spot get even more sore.
"I needed my money yesterday, Carswell," Ran Kelsey snaps, unapologetically hovering over Thorne. "You's lucky I ain't turned you in to no cops. But if I don't get my money by tomorrow, eh, my boys is gonna finish this job up. They ain't as nice as me, got it?"
The boot is back, and Thorne gets a nice new scratch from the sharp sole.
"Got it. Got it," Thorne repeats as Ran bends next to him in the street. The alley's dim lighting makes Ran's face look scarier than normal, his sharp teeth unnatural and conniving in his crooked smile.
The cigar he'd been hoisting burns itself into Thorne's neck, its dying embers sparking as Ran then tosses it into a nearby sewage pipe leak. Ran's lackeys laugh, but Thorne grits his teeth to avoid shouting in pain.
"Tomorrow, Carswell. Or that pretty face isn't the only thing that'll be real messed up."
Thorne figures he'd have stayed in that alley way all night with bruised ribs and a roughed-up face if it wasn't for his best friend. Oh, but she was an angel. He was pretty sure she was an angel at first sight, because the moon illuminated her long blond hair and she was ethereal. He also doesn't realize how long he's been in one position, because his foot is asleep and maybe he's woozy from blood loss.
Crescent Moon Darnel looks down at Thorne with a worried little gasp. "Thorne!"
"Am I dead?" Thorne squints up at her.
"You're going to be if you keep this up." Cress is at his side instantly, checking his pulse point and fussing over him like a mother hen. "We have to get you to a hospital."
"No hospitals." Thorne struggles to sit up, and Cress helps him. "I'm fine."
"You're not." Cress looks behind her, at the employee-only sanctioned door that had lead to the alley way in the first place, and then her eyes fall onto the now-forgotten trash bags she'd been hoisting. "I'm still working right now..."
"Go. Go keep working. I'm fine. I'm gonna just go home, and I'm fine. Really." Thorne struggles to stand next, legs fine but torso killing him. "Argh. Just, uh, keep it moving."
"I'm going to ask Iko to cover me for the rest of the night." Cress wraps Thorne's arm around her shoulders, helping him stand as well, almost stumbling into the alley wall. "Okay? Then we're taking you to a hospital."
"No hospital," Thorne implores. "I can't. I've...been cut off my parents' insurance plans."
Cress huffs out a quivery breath like she's about to cry. "Alright. No hospital. I can...take you somewhere else."
'Somewhere else' turns out to be the Clay residence, and Jacin Clay's hatred of Thorne could probably rival that of Ran's.
To be fair, Jacin doesn't look perturbed at the sight of Thorne bleeding over his cheery welcome mat. He just looks exasperated.
"This is the last time, shortcake," Jacin says as he's unnecessarily rough with cleaning Thorne's wounds. The hydrogen-peroxide soaked rag he's using makes the cuts sting, though perhaps not as much as Jacin's judging glare does. Thorne weakly offers up a meek smile.
Cress sighs in relief. "Thank you, Jacin."
Jacin's wife, Winter, mixes a pot of mint tea in the kitchen and finds a frozen bag of mixed vegetables to let Thorne press to his face.
"My, but you've had a rough night," she says, tenderly probing at Thorne's black eye. Winter turns to offer Cress a cup of tea next, and Cress gratefully accepts it. "Mint has calming properties, you know. Good for relaxation."
Jacin lets out a disdainful sniff that makes it clear that he's not relaxed, at all, and dabs at another cut. "Do I even want to know how this happened, or are you just that much of an idiot that you've gotten yourself mixed up in illegal shit again?"
"When you word it so nicely, Jacin, I'll be sure to print out a full transcription of the illegal shit I'm into,again-" Thorne says, wincing as the stinging sensation returns.
"Why am I not surprised." Jacin applies a sterilized bandaid and hitches up Thorne's shirt to survey the rib damage.
"Geez, Jacin, if I knew you were this desperate to get me out of my clothes, I would've worn something nicer."
Jacin pinches Thorne's bruised side, and Thorne lets out an undignified hiss. "Oops," Jacin says, but Thorne's sure that he catches a smile on Jacin's face as he says it.
"Is he going to be alright?" Cress asks, eyebrows drawn together in worry, mug of tea clasped tightly in her hands. Next to her, Winter curls up on the couch and lays her head of curls onto Cress's tiny shoulder.
"Luckily his ribs aren't broken. This time," Jacin responds. "He'll be fine. Mainly superficial wounds. I wouldn't be surprised if all his face muscles were bruised, though." He leaves Thorne seated at the kitchen table and turns to face Cress. "Do me a favor and keep your friend out of trouble, won't you shortcake?"
"What, we're not friends?" Thorne feigns shock.
"No," Jacin deadpans.
Winter sits up to give her husband a mug of tea, too. "I think we all need some rest and time to reevaluate this in the morning. I'm sure that whatever Carswell has been doing, he has a reason for it. Right?"
Jacin clearly doesn't want to believe that, but he takes a seat next to his wife and reluctantly agrees, though perhaps more for her sake than anything, taking the tea and drinking it all in one go.
"I can't thank you enough, Jacin," Cress says, rightfully meaning it. "Truly. If I can repay you somehow..."
"You can repay me by never bringing him here again."
"Always great to see you, Jacin," Thorne grins, but it makes his face hurt too much to keep it up for long.
By the time they leave the house, Thorne feels well enough to walk on his own, though his side still hurts like hell. He doesn't tell Cress that, though, not wanting her to worry anymore than she needed to.
But she's still worrying, he can tell.
"Do you still talk to your parents?" Cress asks. "I know that you don't like to talk about them. But I think...I think that you should talk to them again."
Thorne knows she's right, as she always is, but he doesn't want to talk to his parents at all. He doesn't know if he'll ever talk to them again, really. "Yeah. I should."
Cress looks at the floor. "But you won't, will you."
Cress wraps her arms around herself to stay warm. "Where are you staying now, then?"
"Presently...nowhere." Thorne rubs at one of the bandaids applied to his cheek, but is also careful not to lift it. "My parents stopped paying for my apartment, and the lease was up yesterday."
"Where's your stuff?"
"Storage compartment. Besides, most of the stuff isn't even mine. I didn't pay for any of it." Thorne feels rather than sees Cress's pitying look, but he pretends not to notice. "I'll be fine. Don't worry."
Cress inhales slowly. "And the reason why I found you half dead in the alley way?"
Because he's an idiot who'd been fickle for materialistic shit that just so happened to then end up gambling again to get quick cash. "It's not important anymore." Thorne realizes, then, that is isn't. He'd been a stupid fuck for even getting back into the he dirty habit of gambling just to line his pockets, because he'd stupidly lost all he'd gained and then some and now he owes money to a prominent shady wannabe gangster.
"You can stay at my house. Just until you get back on your feet," Cress suggests.
"I can't, Cress. Your dad would hate that." Thorne shakes his head. "I'll just...ask someone else if I can crash at their place."
Cress mulls this over. "What if my dad didn't have to know?"
That's how Thorne injures himself again, climbing up the rickety stone of a house, slipping, and falling in the unattended and spiny rose bushes below, landing in an undignified manner that twists his ankle at a weird angle.
"Be careful!" Cress whisper-yells from her open bedroom window. "Are you okay? Do you need help?"
"I'm fine! I'm fine." Thorne grasps the windowsill and succeeds in pulling himself up this time until he's deposited on the scratchy purple wool rug that's also home to Cress's novelty telescope. In his haste, he almost knocks it over, but he grabs it with both hands once it starts teetering.
Cress's room is as unchanged as he'd remembered it. There was still the white wooden computer desk with the long-ago nail polish remover stain Thorne had caused indirectly, the same framed photograph of them as children where Thorne had his tongue stuck out obnoxiously and Cress was around his same height, not to mention the familiar stack of plush animals she'd collected over the years.
"Well, look what we have here," Thorne says, lips stretching into a grin as he approaches the stuffed animal stack. "If it isn't my old friend Mr. Bubblehead. I honestly thought that was the dumbest name for a dolphin but you know, you were never the best at naming things."
"If I recall," Cress replies, a smile on her own face, "I let you name my Indiana Jones-dressed teddy bear and you named it after yourself."
"Yes, poor Thorne. It's too bad he met his untimely fate in the garbage disposal."
Cress blushes pink. "Did I ever...apologize for that?"
"No, because I deserved all the things you said back then. I guess you should've apologized to poor Indiana Jones Thorne, because he's the one who really suffered." Thorne's smile is still there, but he's thinking about their long ago falling-out back when they'd just graduated high school and he'd done the stupidest thing he could've ever done, which was bring another girl to Cress's birthday party and proceed to make out with her the entire night and not realize that Cress had wanted to spend time with him. It had been pure, inhibited stupid on his part, actually, and it had led to them not talking for at least two years.
"You know, I actually got my dad to patch him back up. I mean...he can sew up people better than he can sew up stuffed animals, but he's alive, at least." Cress opens up a bottom drawer in her nightstand and pulls out Indiana Jones-themed Thorne, or at least most of him. He no longer has two legs and part of his head is caved in, one ear also half-gone, but his clothing and all is still there.
Thorne laughs, taking him from Cress. "He's my exact likeness, I see."
From outside the closed door, they hear heavy footsteps. Cress's head shoots up, smile gone. "You have to hide!" She whispers, anxiously, pushing Thorne towards her the fucking tiny closet in the edge of the room that's overstuffed with clothing and a whole bunch of other things she doesn't use anymore, like for some reason at least three stepstools and possibly two desk chairs.
Face pressed awkwardly against the door, Thorne can hear the strained conversation between Cress and her father.
"How...how are you, Crescent?"
A pause. "I'm good, dad."
"Oh, well, I suppose you must be getting ready for bed. I thought I heard you talking in here, are you on the phone?"
"Um, I was. I just ended the call. I was talking to...Iko. She covered my shift for me tonight."
"Why is that? You told me you've been putting in extra hours. On account of it being summer between classes."
"N-no reason, really, I felt a little sick. But I'm better now! I think I should just go to sleep. Sleep it off."
"Right. Of course. Goodnight, Crescent."
Thorne stays in the tiny cramped closet for at least another five minutes (in his own opinion, that is) before he stumbles out.
Cress is seated on her bed, wistfully looking at Indiana Jones Thorne, before she jumps and notices that the actual Thorne is standing there.
"Yeesh. Why do you have so much stuff?" Thorne complains.
Cress shrugs. "Didn't have anywhere to put it." She stands up and in turn offers him her bed. "You can sleep here tonight."
"And where do you think you're going?" Thorne demands, seeing her making as if she's about to accompany her telescope on the rug. "I'm not taking your bed, sweetheart. No chance in hell. You're sleeping there and I'll sleep on the floor."
"I'm not going to let you sleep on the floor," Cress counters, averting her gaze from his almost bashfully.
"And I'm not going to let you sleep on the floor." Thorne crosses his arms, tone growing patronizing and teasing, "Don't make me pick you up and toss you on this bed because I can, and I will."
"Don't overreact. You can't pick me up if you wanted to," Cress taunts, a little smile growing as she locks eyes with Thorne again. "I see those arms of yours are loosing definition."
Thorne mockingly gasps. "Take that back."
"No I won't-Thorne! Thorne, put me down!" Cress shrieks and swats at her best friend's back as he lifts her over his shoulder, only pausing in her giggles to try and lower her voice, scared that her dad would be able to hear it on the other side of the house.
Thorne dumps her unceremoniously on her bed, and the mattress bounces comically under her lithe weight. Cress's head almost smacks her headboard, but she avoids it at the last minute by swerving and falling face flat against her comforter.
From beside her, Thorne's silent laughter threatens to turn loud as his nose bumps against Cress's spine and then he practically falls off the bed altogether as he tries to right the situation.
"You're evil," Cress decides, face muffled by the comforter.
"And you're heavy."
"I can't be heavy because I'm barely five feet tall." Cress sits up, crosses her legs, and grows concerned. "Is your eye okay? How are your ribs?"
"I'm fine, alright? Stop worrying so much." Thorne lays his head in Cress's lap, though, and lets her stroke his hair, even though it's gelled with too much product like always and she's undoing the stiff strands. "I should let you sleep already."
"You're not sleeping on the floor," Cress responds. "Just sleep here with me. I'll lock my door in case dad comes in, but otherwise, there's enough space for the both of us."
Thorne looks up at Cress. "You're sure?"
"Yes. You're my best friend," Cress says, but Thorne misses the hitch in her throat as she speaks.
Thorne exhales peacefully, closing his eyes and grinning broadly. "I love you, you know that?"
He doesn't notice the tender, heartbreaking expression she gives him in return.
Three Years Ago
Cress doesn't want a birthday party. That much she insists upon.
"You have to have a birthday party," her friend Iko insists over the blaring bubblegum pop music playing through the speaker. "You need to! You're turning eighteen. You're becoming an adult now and everything."
Cress bites her lip and hugs her pillow closer to her chest, legs tucked under herself demurely. "It's just...a lot of work."
"Then leave it all to me!" Iko implores. "I'll plan the whole thing! You're an adult! I'll hire a stripper!"
"We're not hiring a stripper," another of Cress's friends, Cinder, interjects.
"You're right. Professional strippers are too expensive. If we give Thorne fifty bucks, do you think he'd strip?"
Cress's cheeks flame red. "Iko!"
"If you gave Thorne ten bucks he'd strip," Cress's friend Scarlet says, rolling her brown eyes obnoxiously, looking saucier than normal because of her outstretched hands, nails freshly painted bright red.
"Except you're not going to hire Thorne to be the entertainment, right?" Cinder crosses her arms, glaring at Iko.
Iko huffs. "Fine. I will not hire Thorne to be the entertainment. How do you feel about DJs?"
"I'd rather not have anything big!" Cress exclaims. "Just us. That would be fine."
"Okay, then, let's work on a guest list." Iko reaches for Cress's desk, where her lilac and pink flower patterned stationary rests. "Obviously there's us. Me, you, Cinder, and Scarlet. And Thorne. Who else should I invite?"
"Jacin?" Cinder suggests. "He's your friend, right, Cress?"
"Yeah," Cress agrees. "Add Jacin."
"Okay, added Jacin. Anyone else?"
Scarlet looks at Iko expectantly. "Aren't you forgetting someone?"
"Oh! Oh, right. I forgot Wolf. Sorry. I mean Ze'ev. Or...whatever his name is. Yeah." Iko pens in both names.
"We should just do something that only involves us," Cress suggests. "I don't want a party getting crazy. You know my dad's out of town at that surgeon seminar, and he'd freak if he found out."
"Your dad won't find out." Satisfied, Iko sets the guest list down. "We can get cute little invitations and invite everyone over and it'll be great. Just leave it all to me."
"Okay, but...nothing big," Cress begs.
"Fine, nothing big."
Somehow the entirety of the recently graduated senior class finds out, not that Cress is surprised. She's just very shy and nervous and bumbling because some guy she vaguely recognized was intent on giving her a happy birthday kiss, and she was not going to give her first kiss away to a drunk douchebag.
"I swear that I didn't tell anybody else," Iko says, forehead creased. "I didn't even bring liquor!" Suddenly, she gasps. "God, it's probably some idiot college students. There's probably idiot college students here!"
Cress, who's currently tangling long strands of blond hair around her fingers nervously, feels as if she's going to throw up. "But who would tell everybody this? You guys didn't post anything on social media. I didn't tell anyone else..."
"I swear I didn't tell anyone," Iko repeats. "And you know how hard it was for me to not tweet about it!"
"Have you seen Cinder?" Cress asks, suddenly, eyes wide. "Do you know where she is?"
Iko groans. "Shit. I lost track of her. I was trying to stop some idiot college students from doing a keg stand!"
"Let's go find Cinder." The only invited person Cress has seen so far is Iko; not even Thorne had made an appearance and he was supposedly her best friend. Though it was approaching eight o' clock only, Cress already had a houseful of people and only one of her friends present at her eighteenth birthday party.
Iko leads the way, plowing through people and scowling at spiked punch, making sure to seem unattainable and unsatisfied with the amount of people gathered. But, knowing Iko, Cress is sure that she's thrilled with the large crowd. And probably checking out the idiot college students.
They find Cinder after fifteen minutes, in Cress's garage, a grease stain on her forehead and messy hair slipping out of her ponytail.
"Sorry," Cinder sheepishly says as her opening sentence. "Your dad's oil needed changing."
"Thanks?" Cress replies, confused.
Iko makes a face. "Ugh, it reeks in here. What's that smell?"
"Stoners." Cinder slams shut the hood of the car. "They were in here a while ago. I told them to fuck off."
"Very explicit but very necessary, thank you," Iko sniffs. "Ew. Isn't marijuana illegal?"
"Technically, yes." Cinder wipes her hands on a towel. "Uh- shouldn't we be mingling with party guests or something like that?"
"Forget those rude, uninvited, did-not-RSVP party guests," Iko snaps. "If they didn't RSVP they can't have dinner. I only made salmon for seven people and they can't have any."
"I never thought I'd see the day that Iko turned down a wild party," Cinder grins.
"Well, it's not a party for me. I know you're not having fun, Cress," Iko says, then turning to her friend sadly, "And if you want I can go play a police siren over the loudspeaker and make everyone go away."
Cress forces a tight lipped smile. "I'm not having fun, but maybe we should wait for the police siren thing? I still haven't seen the others. We should at least wait until they're here."
"Good idea. We should look for Scarlet and Wolf, I saw them earlier," Cinder offers up. "Though they might just be outside, on, like, the roof or something. Being sappy romantics."
Iko sighs, dreamily. "They should get married already."
Cinder ends up leading the way this time, but then Cress gets sidetracked, aka, douchebag returns with a red plastic cup of vodka and reeks of cologne. In Cinder and Iko's rush to get through a crowd of inebriated underage drinkers dancing to Kanye West (who even dances to Kanye West?) they accidentally leave her behind.
"Aww, c'mon, give me a little kiss," he croons, lips stretching outward in a laughable way, arms tightening around her waist.
"No," Cress replies, firmly, but struggles against his hold and turns her head so that he gets a mouthful of hair.
And across the room she sees him.
Her face lights up, and Cress is about to open her mouth and call out his name so that he can rescue her when...
...his arm wraps itself around a pretty girl's waist. And this girl is tall, buxom, and flirtatiously giggly.
He hadn't even noticed Cress.
Cress watches him kiss her next. Kissing her like they're alone.
Cress's stomach drops.
It was...it was stupid to even think that Thorne would kiss her like that.
It was stupid that have that dream.
But...it was all she'd secretly hoped for.
She pries herself out of the douchebag's grip and runs away in search for her friends, tears embarrassingly streaming down her cheeks.
On her own birthday.
She's the least happy one in the entire party.
Cress doesn't even bother to search for Iko or Cinder. Instead, she shuts herself in her bedroom, thankfully unoccupied, and she slides down the wall and lets herself sob, choking back tears and staring at her stuffed animal stash.
The teddy bear wearing Indiana Jones garb seems to mock her with Thorne's name and the fact that she'd just fallen in love with him over his stupid playfulness and how he's the only one she's ever opened up to and trusted enough to let name one of her precious plush toys and maybe it's stupid and mildly overreactive but she wants him to pay for it. She grabs it in her hands and tosses it against her telescope and watches it fall, unharmed, and she then picks it up and resolves to do what she's never done.
Teddy bear tucked under her arm, she's most likely the lamest-looking at her birthday party, but she doesn't care. She searches for Thorne and finds him in the kitchen, the pretty girl he's been with off with a group of friends, and he's leaning next to the kitchen sink with a bottle of beer held to his lips.
He sees her first.
"Hey, Cress!" He says, easily, with a wide grin. "Happy birthday; you're officially old. What have you been up to all this time? Haven't seen you here. Which is weird. It's your house."
Cress feels the dried tears on her face and shakes her head. "I can't believe you."
"What? What'd I do?" Thorne asks, genuinely shocked and maybe concerned with how upset she sounds because Cress does not get upset.
Cress swallows hard. "You're here...kissing some girl, and I've been having the worst birthday of my life."
"Hold on, what? How is this the worst birthday of your life?" Thorne scoffs. And maybe he's a little drunk, because he leans against the sink and almost falls over. "This is a great party. Lemme tell ya, I called up that girl you've seen me with...forgot her name...tell her all about your birthday. She said she'd come by and bring friends! That should make it the best fucking birthday of your life, c'mon. Hot chicks!"
Cress's head reels. It had been Thorne. Thorne had been the one to bring the uninvited guests. "You invited someone else?"
"Uh, yeah. What's wrong with that?" Thorne raises his eyebrows. "It's more fun, Cress. Are you mad? Don't be mad. It's just some fun."
Cress practically shakes with rage. "I can't believe that you brought other people!"
"Don't make it a big deal," Thorne says, rolling his eyes, now being the one who was douchebag-y.
"You know I don't like being around strangers!" Cress exclaims, voice rising more than usual. "You know I didn't want to have a big party!"
"Jesus, Cress, don't get all batshit. It's not even a big deal. If anything, it's-"
"You're such a...jerk!" Cress yells, and then tears form at the corners of her eyes, almost involuntarily.
Thorne laughs, the audacity of him. "C'mon, Cress, you don't mean that."
Cress smacks him with the Indiana Jones teddy bear. The tears slip down her cheeks, and she shakes her head. "I hate you."
He frowns, and he bats away the teddy bear attack. "Do you have to be such a fucking child?"
Cress reels back from those words. She's heard them all her life. Called immature. Deemed too innocent and childlike by other girls and taunted by bullies.
But she's never expected them from her best friend.
She rubs at her eyes with the palm of her hand. "I let you name my bear." And then her voice cracks.
Thorne laughs, a cruel kind of laugher that sparks more tears. "Whoop-de-fucking-do. I named your bear. What, I'm not allowed to have fun because you don't? Don't be a baby, Cress. Suck it up."
Something boils up inside of Cress. Something that's a long time coming. She shoves that teddy bear into the garbage disposal to the left of him, looks him right in the eye, and turns it on. The grinding gears sound garishly harmless against the plushy fabric, but it tears through its seams and expels stuffing and she's at ease with that.
Thorne looks surprised. "Did you just..."
"I'm done with you," Cress announces, voice thick with emotion. "Don't bother being my best friend anymore."
"You're serious right now?" Thorne says, grinning, and then he cackles. "Okay, sure. Stick your bear in the garbage disposal. Be a weirdo like that."
"You're an asshole!" Cress screams, and shoves his chest so that his back hits the sink. "I never want to see you again! Just get out of my house. Get out of my house!"
"Cress, stop, you're making a scene!" Thorne snaps, stumbling against the sink once more. "Why are you being psycho? You're fucking crazy!"
Cress's tears seem to blind her vision and she shakes her head fervently. "Leave me alone, Thorne."
"I think she told you to leave her alone."
The harsh voice that chimes in, taller than her and very firm, is comforting, as if the hand that protectively lands on her shoulder.
Thorne, in turn, laughs again. "Jacin Clay. Why don't you just stay out of this, buddy, before-"
Jacin's fist connects with Thorne's cheek quicker than Cress can see it all, but then suddenly there's cheering and jeers and bodies press against hers to see this new and upcoming fight, except there's not much to see.
Thorne stumbles back against the sink again, grabbing onto his jaw. "What the fuck, dude?"
"Stay away from Cress," Jacin replies, very calmly, and he starts to push Cress through the crowd to get her outside, where the chill night air is a grateful escape from the stuffy and overcrowded kitchen.
When they're alone, seated at the porch chairs by the back of the house, Cress lets herself cry again. Jacin patiently sits and waits it out.
With the back door shut, it's completely quiet. No other partygoers have spilled into the backyard area, and so Cress feels at ease for once, and not overwhelmed.
"I'm sorry," Cress manages to say after she feels like her crying has subsided. "I didn't think I would get so emotional. He was just drunk, and I guess I was being too harsh, and-"
"Carswell Thorne deserves to be deal with harshly." Jacin's arm is still around her shoulders. "Are you alright?"
Cress wipes at her cheeks. "I'm okay. Really. I feel better now. Thank you, for what you did inside."
"You mean punch your best friend."
Cress lets a laugh bubble out. "Ex best friend now."
"To be honest, I feel like I should thank you for giving me the opportunity. I've been trying to punch Thorne my entire life." Jacin's dry humor makes Cress laugh again, and then he smiles down at her. "Happy birthday, Cress."
For some reason Cress feels completely exposed as she smiles back, and then she blushes. "Thanks."
When Jacin kisses her, the first reaction she has is how sweet and pure it all is. His nose nudges hers and their lips press together, but he doesn't try to go any further. As first kisses went, Cress appreciated it.
But she didn't feel anything.
One Year Ago
The edge of a credit card does just fine for straightening a line of cocaine.
Desperate times called for desperate measures, and as it so happened, Thorne did not have any razor blades to make it precise, but it was fine. The high was what mattered, and that's what he got either way.
And there it was. That euphoric, guttural and pleasurable feeling the instant he snorted it up his nose. That was the only reason he'd ever slum in the worst part of town...to get buzzed with a bunch of losers with no real jobs save for the occasional drug hustle. But it's fine. Thorne is the occasional drug hustle, and he's probably ripped off all the time, but he thinks of it as a charitable thing that he supports local businesses.
Do drug dealers count as businesses?
He likes to think so.
But the highs are only reserved for the mornings. During the daytime, and the nighttime, he gets his ecstasy elsewhere.
Girls are great. Girls that flutter their obviously fake eyelashes and drop cheap-lipstick kisses on his cheeks and he can slide a twenty into their garish, neon colored thigh garters and it's all good. He's always in the VIP rooms of bars, because he's not cheap, though the girls usually aren't as high end as he'd prefer, but it's the kind of girls that the loser bunch he hangs around with can afford so he goes with it.
He's charitable, too.
When nighttime rolls around Thorne can be found behind the wheel of expensive sports cars; Ferraris in bright red, midnight black Masaratis, electric blue Cadillacs.
Then there's a tall woman wearing high heels with bright lipstick and messy curls and she winks, pulling a flag out of her cleavage, before she whips it up in the air and down and the cars he's lined up with shoot away, not that they compare to Thorne.
In a screech of tires, foot pressing the accelerator with ease, he's the fastest. He's the one who whoops like there's no tomorrow and races red lights and blares loud music, lying on the horn when pedestrians dare cross, being the most reckless on the road to feel the thrill of both rule breaking and speeding and maybe if he weren't such an idiot maybe he wouldn't have ended up in the damn hospital because he was the one who was lucky enough to simply run out of gas and crash into a forested branch of a park rather than collide with something head-on full force.
He's lucky that he's not dead, but he's not surprised that he can hardly move and is stuck in a bed from day to night.
His emergency contact isn't one of his parents.
She bursts right through the door to the ER, long hair a messy bun atop her head, a long summer dress reaching her ankles and a pair of dirty old tennis shoes on her feet, and those shoes probably aren't hers, that much Thorne could guess.
Cress patiently waits outside as she talks to the nurse. Thorne can see her from his hospital bed; likely they're not letting her in because she isn't family, oh, but she is, if only they'd understand.
There's a bench outside the room. She sits there to wait, maybe for one of his parents to come so that she can see Thorne.
Except his parents never come.
They pay his bills, sure. They give him money. They pay for his lavish lifestyle though perhaps they don't know that they pay for the drugs, the prostitutes, and the fast cars. It's how they love him. It's the only way they can love him.
They pay for his hospital bills, too. But they still don't visit. His mother sends a single text message instructing him to get well and that's all. Nothing from his father.
Cress is finally let into the room. Thorne doesn't know why, but his bleary eyes strain to see her again, because it's been two years since they'd last talked at all.
Her freckled cheeks are wet with tears and her eyes are red and she looks a mess and that is what makes Thorne finally feel guilt, and remorse, and he's upset at what he's become.
She doesn't ask questions. She hugs him carefully, gently, and he kisses her ear once and that's it.
Best friends just understand.
Luckily Dr. Darnel leaves early in the morning for his work, needing to be in the emergency room from sunup to sundown and possibly even longer than that.
It allows Cress the house to herself, and when she wakes up a quarter to seven she inches out from under the covers, ignoring Thorne's light snores and her own rapidly beating heart at the proximity of where he is, to go down the stairs to her kitchen to make breakfast. Except Cress doesn't know how to cook.
She resolves to wonder how hard it could possibly be and sets to work, but the sliminess of the raw eggs make her wince and she drops a can opener on her bare toe without ever having to use the can opener in the first place, so she acknowledges that she's a human disaster.
Carswell Thorne is no different, though.
He wakes up a half-hour after Cress has done enough damage to smell the burnt eggs and the sees the blackened toast and he laughs.
"Let's just have cereal," Thorne proposes.
Cress and Thorne sit in front of the television set watching Sunday-morning cartoons and eating bowls of tasteless Cheerios, making fun of badly animated shows and giggling about poorly executed commercials.
Cress has missed this, but she also knows that she can't avoid putting off the topic that's plaguing her mind.
"Thorne," she starts, slowly, "Are you going to tell me why you were in that alley way?"
Thorne sips a spoonful of milk and avoids looking at Cress. "It's really not important."
"You were on the floor, and you'd been beaten," Cress says. "I don't see how that's not important. If something bad happened..."
"I'm an idiot, alright? Like Jacin said. It's illegal stuff. I don't want you mixed up in all of it." Thorne slams his now-empty bowl onto the coffee table before their feet.
Cress quietly responds, "You can tell me anything. You know that."
"I know, I know. Honestly. But I owe this guy some money and I didn't pay him back and I don't have the money to pay him back. So." Thorne's mouth twists into what Cress thinks might be a smile; he's trying to save face. For someone who's never had money be an issue, Cress knows how difficult it is for Thorne to admit up about his monetary problems.
Cress tucks her feet under her rear end and tries not to sound overzealous. "How much?"
"Too much." Thorne lays his head on Cress's shoulder. She leans back.
"And if you don't get him the money?"
"I'll probably be dead. If I'm lucky." Thorne refocuses his attention to the television screen. "I told you that it's not important."
"How much, Thorne?" Cress demands, voice serious.
Thorne sighs. "Eight thousand."
Cress sucks in a sharp breath. "That's..."
"...too much," Thorne reiterates his point tiredly. "My parents won't even want to talk to me, let alone give me money. I can't ask them. And, I'm unemployed. There's no way I can get eight thousand dollars by tonight."
Cress silently ponders an idea in her head. "I know someone who can lend you that kind of money."
Thorne opens his mouth like he'll protest, but he doesn't. Instead, he finally asks, "Who?"
By the time Cress gets ready for the day and manages to get Thorne to their lender, it's one o' clock and her own shift at the bar starts in less than three hours.
The lender is Cinder, because she's the one with her own business and the premise of being able to have enough money on hand.
She's wiping a wrench down with a greasy rag and sighing, having just listened to Cress's explanation of the situation, and her mouth flattens into a line.
"Alright," Cinder agrees, though not pleasantly. "I'll get the money."
In exchange for it, Thorne is appointed as Cinder's newest employee as means to work off the money rather than come up with the money on his own as repayment, because any other job prospects would surely be slim pickings for a man with no prior employment history whose only admirable talents could arguably be his inability to rationally think and possibly his stellar aptitude for charming women, not to mention debauchery in general.
Cinder presents it in full, in cash, with one hundred dollar bills and a grimace. "You're lucky Cress likes you," she says as a means of warning, pressing a sealed envelope into Thorne's hand.
"Always great doing business with you, Cinder. Oh, wait, it's 'boss'. Thanks for everything, boss." Thorne's maddening grin and comments earn him a well deserved greasy-towel slap to the face.
Cress hugs Cinder for a good minute before letting her friend go, before murmuring in a voice that only she could hear, "Thank you so much, Cinder."
Cinder, even as unemotionally attached as she tries to seem, hugs Cress back in return. "Just make sure he doesn't end up dead, won't you? I need his manual labor for at least a thousand hours."
"Hold up, for how long?" Thorne protests.
"It could be more, if you're inclined to complain." Cinder gives him the stink eye.
"On second thought, a thousand hours is nothing. I could do that in my sleep."
Cress takes Thorne's hand in her own, and she misses the slight flush that crosses his face because of it. "I'll see you next week at Iko's thing?"
"Sure," Cinder replies.
Once they're out of earshot, Thorne asks, "What is Iko's thing?"
"Weekly girls night. You're not invited." On her toes, Cress lightly steps over the muddy ground outside of Cinder's auto-repair shop, hand still intertwined with Thorne's. "Any idea how you're going to get that money to the guy?"
"Oh, yeah, I know him," Thorne casually replies. "It's Ran. Ran Kelsey."
"Ran Kelsey...you mean Scarlet's brother-in-law," Cress says, eyes wide, "You owe him money?"
"Is that surprising? It shouldn't be. I mean, Ran's always been a shady bastard, Cress."
"Yeah, but I didn't know that he was getting mixed up in illegal gambling again, too," Cress responds, face fallen. "When Wolf finds out..."
"Let's make sure he doesn't find out, should we?" Thorne implores. "Wolf's busy enough. Besides, I've got all day long to get Ran that money. And, I've got a job now. I saw we celebrate."
Cress, who's begun fiddling with her long hair, throws him a quizzical look. "Celebrate how?"
"The only way I can. Extravagantly."
Seven Months Ago
Cress, who's been siting rather still to let Thorne finish a rough sketch of her face, is no longer patient enough for his constant erasing and redrawing because she breaks the pose and asks him, "Did you know that Jacin and Winter are getting married?"
"Cress," Thorne whines, "I almost had it."
"Well, did you?" Cress prompts, not paying attention to his plight and instead resting her chin on her palm, leaning forward on the kitchen table. Beside her, forgotten, lay their cups of crappy gas station coffee and a bag of trail mix that Thorne had eaten all the chocolate bits from.
"No, I didn't...I haven't even forgiven Jacin for punching me in the face," Thorne says, and he scowls.
"They invited me to the wedding, and I've got a plus one. Will you come with me?" Cress asks.
"I mean, no offense, but Jacin and I aren't exactly friends. If I showed up to his wedding, he might kill me," Thorne says.
Cress sighs, and clasps her hands together. "Please? Just for a little while. I really want you to come with me to their wedding."
"Why don't you take...Iko," Thorne suggests, setting aside his sketchbook and blowing eraser tidbits off the paper.
"Because she's a bridesmaid in the wedding," Cress says, "And so is Cinder. And Scarlet. So I can't take them."
"Why weren't you a bridesmaid in the wedding?" Thorne idly asks, and Cress squirms in her seat.
"Um," she says, slowly, "I'm sort of...the best man. Er, woman, in this case."
"You," Thorne repeats, probably surprised but mainly looking to be on the verge of laughter, "Are thebest man."
"Woman. I'm the best woman," Cress mutters, and picks out a dried raisin from the trail mix bag to throw at Thorne. "Stop laughing!"
"Okay, okay, I won't laugh- I'm just not really surprised that Jacin has no friends."
The comment earns him another raisin pelting but a glare from Cress, too.
"Kidding. I was kidding. Mainly," Thorne justifies.
Cress huffs but halts her attack, instead taking another raisin to eat it. "Will you come with me or not?"
"Of course I'll come, Cress, relax- why didn't you tell me you were in the wedding, anyway?"
Cress rolls a peanut between her fingertips. "I don't know. It never came up. I know that none of my friends have been really...talking to you since..."
"Since I became a grade-A douchebag. I know," Thorne finishes the sentence for her. "If it makes them feel better, reassure Jacin that I'll only be a douchebag to him."
"That's not- going to go in your favor."
"Always a spoilsport, aren't you. So what are you doing as the best woman? Are you giving a speech? Are you going to tell the whole wedding about the time that you and Jacin dated?"
"It wasn't dating," Cress refutes, "We went to the movies together once. That was it. That was the night we also decided we were better as friends and that worked out, because he met Cinder's step-cousin Winter afterward."
"I've never met this Winter," Thorne interestedly remarks. "She's Cinder's step-cousin? What's she look like?"
"Beautiful," Cress admits, and she thinks of Winter's lovely smile and bright hazel-colored eyes and the thick, shiny black curls that adorn her head. "You'd probably like her."
"I don't know...she must be desperate if she's marrying Jacin."
"Promise you'll be nice for the wedding," Cress demands, suddenly worried about taking Thorne. "This is about Jacin and Winter celebrating their happiness."
"Of course. I'll be so nice, Jacin and I will be best friends at the end of all this."
They don't end up best friends, of course. Thorne's lucky he's not kicked out the second he walks in.
Iko, who's on the arm of a gorgeous groomsman, is looking at Thorne in a hard, cold manner. "Is hebothering you, Cress?" Iko asks, and she narrows her eyes conspiringly as if she'd have no problem gutting Thorne with her six-inch steel point-studded high heels.
"It's fine, Iko," Cress replies, quickly, arms splayed out in defense. "Really. He's my date."
Thorne gives Iko a grin and a wink. "Iko. You look as lovely as ever."
"Does Cinder know you're here?" Iko crosses her arms, jutting one hip to the side.
"Seeing how I've got both of my balls, no, she does not."
"Thorne," Cress pipes up, rapidly, "You should get me something to drink!"
"Why would I- er. Right. Yes. I'll get you something to drink," Thorne replies, smartly changing his answer. "Can I get you anything, Iko?"
"No," Iko answers, eyes still narrowed.
Cress gives Iko and the groomsman a hopefully winning and convincing smile once Thorne is gone. "Great wedding, isn't it?"
Iko sighs. "I trust you, Cress. I do. But I don't trust him," this she adds with a glance over her shoulder by the bar where Thorne is situating himself, "And if he's taking advantage of you..."
"He's not, Iko. Really." Cress's face softens. "He's better. He's getting help. He's in a support group now, and he's recovering from the accident. He's...he's still my best friend, Iko."
Iko nods like she believes Cress, or perhaps she just simply does, and then a smirk settles on her face. "Are you going to hit the dance floor?"
"I think I'll leave that to you," Cress giggles, and bids Iko and the groomsman goodbye with that. Looking towards the bar, expectantly for Thorne, she sees that he's already having a drink.
With another girl. A girl who has her hand on his shoulder and is looking him square in the eyes, talking to him like she's his whole world.
A hurt feeling bubbles in her throat but Cress doesn't let it bother her the way it did when they had had their falling out. Yes, she'd had a crush on him then, and those feelings had never really faded away, but she wasn't a teenager anymore. She could do without the jealousy and without the drama.
Stealing away in the back gardens, Cress lets out a huffy exhale and sits down on a pearly ivory stone bench situated next to a hedge of rosebushes and lets her anxiety simmer. Alright. She was fine. She was fine.
"There you are," comes the voice she recognizes so well, and Cress's head whips up to face Thorne and two drinks. "Thought you'd run off and left me. And Cinder still doesn't even know I'm here, can you imagine? If I had to ask her if she'd seen you, there would probably be missing posters of this face pasted on the walls."
Cress giggles once, happiness overtaking any previous enviable ways and plucks a wine glass out of Thorne's hand. "There's no alcohol in this, right? I don't want to be drunk when I give my speech."
"Of course there's not. You're the one who drove us here, and considering my license is suspended, I can't be anyone's designated driver." Thorne clinks his glass against hers. "Two pink lemonades in fancy cups."
Cress takes a tiny sip and appreciatively hums. "This is nice."
"The only good part of this wedding, so far." Thorne stares at her for a few seconds before asking, "Speaking of, how's your speech for the ol' killjoy? I haven't heard it yet."
"You don't need to hear it. It's generic. I'm going to talk about his and Winter's meeting and how he proposed and how he told me about it. That's it." Cress runs a finger over the outside of the glass. "It's kind of bittersweet, isn't it? Jacin means a lot to me, and he's moving on. It's part of growing up...Scarlet and Wolf are already married, Cinder has a serious boyfriend, and Iko's got a new job that takes up all her time. We're not- all together like we used to be."
Thorne snorts. "Sorry. I can't get over that. Jacin means a lot to me..."
"Stop." Cress gives her best friend a shove. "He was my first kiss. He's always-"
"Wait," Thorne interjects. "You're serious? Your first kiss was from Jacin?"
"Is that so hard to believe? Yes, my first kiss was from Jacin," Cress says, "But that's besides the point, because he's someone I could rely on. Now, I can't expect that of him. He has a wife now, and he's always going to put her first."
"I can't believe your first kiss was from Jacin," Thorne muses, "And I never knew about it. Don't best friends tell each other that sort of thing?"
Cress pokes Thorne's shoulder. "I never learned about your first kiss, did I?"
"Argh. Fine. You want to know about it? It was with this girl named Kate Fallow. We were thirteen. I wanted her math homework."
"What? I'm being honest. She was a nice girl, I was an asshole, tale as old as time." Thorne drinks from his wine glass.
Cress ponders this for a minute. "Did you like her?"
"I liked her math homework."
Cress grins but leans on Thorne's shoulder. "You would."
"Emphasis on would, because I don't kiss girls to get their homework anymore," Thorne retorts. "In this day and age, you kiss a girl to get other things."
"Like...don't make me tell you. Your dad would kill me."
Because she feels playful, Cress laughs. "I'm just joking. How's your girlfriend doing, anyway?"
"Darla? We broke up. A while ago. We weren't really working."
"Oh," Cress gasps, lifting her head from his shoulder. "Oh, I'm sorry, Thorne. I didn't know."
"It's fine. We're good. Well, she actually threw a vase at my head, but at least it was plastic, so," Thorne says, and shrugs it off. "My love life's notably vacant. We should just get married, Cress. What's that cliche thing all best friends do? If we're not married by thirty, let's get married to each other."
He misses the way Cress's breath catches in an embarrassed manner. "S-sure. Um. If we're not married by thirty let's marry each other."
Thorne looks at Cress. "Want to go dance with me?"
Cress looks at the floor, kicking at the immaculate green grass with one of her flats. "I don't know how to dance."
"Lucky for you, you've got the world's greatest dancer as your date," Thorne says, extending one hand.
"World's greatest dancer, huh?" Cress replies, bemused smirk quirking her lips as she accepts Thorne's invitation.
"Yup. Don't get me mistaken with those Olympic champions." Inside, the song is slowly ending, and up starts a soft song that could've only been Winter's choice, because there were no vocals and there was a lovely violinist playing it at the side of the room.
Cress uneasily feels too short in Thorne's arms, but he holds onto her hands and gives her a spin, making it simple to loose her awkwardness and burst into a smile. She loves being with him, and when he grins down at her that way it's so easy to get lost in his deep blue eyes and remember why she's always liked him romantically.
But there's no way he'd like her back.
As she stares at the floor, she misses the lovestruck way he glances at her because she isn't looking.
Luckily, Thorne's kidding about the extravagant thing. He also probably only has ten bucks on him, max, so it's not like he can (present eight thousand excluded).
"I need to tell you something," Thorne says, once they're seated outside of a tiny restaurant with soft-serve ice cream cones in vanilla and chocolate respectively.
Cress licks her vanilla ice cream before it melts in her hand. "What is it?"
"I-" Thorne wavers, and it's so unlike him that Cress wonders if something is wrong.
"Thorne?" Cress questions, suddenly worried. "Are you okay?"
"Fine. Perfectly fine. Completely- okay, maybe I'm not fine, but that's not the point. I just have to come out with something and be a man about it," Thorne rambles, "And-"
"Thorne," Cress interjects gently, smiling fondly, "If it's about what happened, you don't have to worry. You can stay at my place for now. Your parents...we'll call your parents. They'll come around. Cinder will-"
"Christ, Cress, I'm in love with you," Thorne blurts out.
Cress blinks. Once. Twice. The only sound she can properly hear is a twittering bird in the tree that looms over their outdoor table. Her first initial reaction is that he's lying. Or that her ears are playing tricks on her. "What?"
"I-," Thorne falters, adorably flushing, "-I guess that came out wrong. Not that I'm in love with you! Because I am. Uh- I meant for it to come out a lot smoother and definitely not like this and I wasn't going to tell you until I was sure that it was the right moment, but...yeah. I'm in love with you."
Cress feels as if she's glued to her chair, with her ice cream cone melting over her fingers. "O-oh," she stammers out. "That's...thank you."
"Did you just- thank me?"
Cress's face is on fire. "Please ignore that. Just- ignore anything I'm about to say, really."
"But I would actually appreciate it if you told me something," Thorne says, raising his eyebrows, "About my heartfelt confession."
"Do I have to?"
Cress looks at her hands and feels a lifetime of repressed responses fade into nothingness. "I don't- I can't-"
"Right. Um. You don't feel that same way about me. Let's just- actually, let me leave. Right now. Before I fuck this up even more than I already have," Thorne says, colored red and looking away and it's everything Carswell Thorne has never been- flustered, rushing, and embarrassed.
"Thorne," Cress tries to respond, "You don't have to leave. I don't- I'm making this weird. I knew I would. Um-"
"I'll see you tonight?" Thorne confirms, and before Cress can even answer to that, he's gone, with his confession lingering in the air and a melting ice cream cone in her hand.
And her idiotic brain cursing itself for not being able to string two words together to the man she's been in love with for years having finally confessed feelings she'd been sure he'd never return.
She mourns this moment as she sits at her desk, pencil in hand tapping away at an unfinished crossword puzzle, listening to a sappy rendition of Justin Beiber's Baby.
Abruptly rising, pushing her chair away, Cress stumbles to her window and almost tips over her telescope as she struggles to unlock and lift her heavy window, eyes wide as Carswell Thorne loiters on her front lawn, a gigantic eighties era boombox lifted on one shoulder.
"Cress!" Thorne yells, over the noise of Justin Beiber's voice.
Cress laughs, and presses her fingers to her mouth, grinning stupidly, eyes shining, and she acknowledges that she's in love. She's never fallen out of it. She loves his brown hair and his blue eyes and his perfect, beautiful, smile.
"Hey," Thorne says, and he grins back up at her and his face simply lights up. "I didn't know if you were home so I just hoped. And, I figured, that my love confession won't count unless it's cheesy and terrible so there, I love you. I love you more than-" the boombox slips and he pitches forward to catch it. "-argh, fuck. Oops. Pretend you didn't hear that."
Cress giggles, long hair drifting out of the window with the breeze, and shyly states, "Okay."
"I was going to serenade you but I figured Dr. Darnel needs his ears to be a surgeon." Thorne lowers the volume on the song just as the Ludacris rap starts and he raises his eyebrows. "Is this a good enough love confession?"
Blinking away happy tears, Cress manages a quivery, "Yeah."
Setting down the boombox, Thorne stands up straighter and beams at her. "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair. So I can properly talk to you instead of yell at your window."
Cress rolls her eyes but smiles as she lets her hair fall out the window as her invitation for Thorne to climb up the side of the house and stay perched outside her window, his feet on the ledge of the downstairs kitchen window.
"I'm gonna fall off this fucking thing," Thorne breathes out, holding on for dear life. "Pretend you didn't hear that, either."
Cress lets her chest rise and fall with the last of her elated tears, but she's still smiling. "Okay."
"I got you something." Clinging to the window with one hand, he reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a small box. Opening it, he shows a simple band of silver engraved with a crescent moon. "Don't take this the wrong way. I mean, I know I already told you I loved you, but I told you it with no strings attached. You don't have to like me back. Heck, you don't even have to like me at all. I just got you this promise ring and it doesn't have to mean that I'll promise to marry you someday. It just means that I promise I'll be here for you. For as long as you want me to be."
Cress wipes the remaining tears away from her eyes. "Thorne," she laughs, shakily, "I love you, too."
His grin is back tenfold and it's like he's the sun, radiating warmth and happiness and when he slides the ring onto her finger he practically falls off the ledge and Cress laughs but he doesn't make a move to step inside, which is fine, he seems to think it's more romantic if he's on the brink of death. Or so he claims, anyway.
"Does this mean you'll go out with me?" Thorne asks.
Cress blushes, and he can see every freckle on her cheeks. "I think it does."
And then- "What is the meaning of this, Crescent?" Dr. Darnel's voice cuts in.
Thorne then actually does fall off the ledge.