Words can't describe just how much I wanted to sink into the floor and disappear. While my father was busy shaking Mal's hand, Darien's blue eyes burned into mine. I could clearly pick out the thinly veiled anger evident in his face, and as much as I wanted to believe I had toughened my hide a bit, my heart plummeted into my stomach. What the hell was he doing here?
"Serena?" my father's voice suddenly tore my attention from Darien, and I swallowed hard. "Are you all right?"
I glanced at Darien, who shifted his attention away, and then at Mal, who smiled at me gently. I could only frown in response, but I nodded reluctantly at my dad.
"I want you to meet Mr. White's son, Malcolm, and his nephew Darien," he nodded towards the boys. Mal stepped forward and offered his hand, but I glanced toward Darien, who rolled his eyes. I didn't have to be a mind-reader. I knew he was imagining all the lies I was going to rack up in the next five minutes.
"We-We've actually met," I stammered. Mal looked a little shocked, and Darien raised an eyebrow. I looked up at my dad, who appeared just as surprised. "They go to Madison," I explained, in a slightly bolder tone. My father suddenly paled.
"So you all know each other?" Mrs. Shields asked, smiling.
"Yes, you could say that," I replied tentatively, and Darien scoffed.
Mrs. Shields glanced at him, confused. However, the smile quickly returned as a bell suddenly sounded from the door, announcing dinner. "Well, we better continue this conversation in the dining hall. We have a reserved table inside."
"Perfect! I'm starving!" Mr. White exclaimed, and began leading the procession into the dining hall. Everyone followed, and my heart skipped a beat as Darien brushed by me without a second glance. Malcolm fell back, and I followed him quickly, throwing my father a look that clearly told him I wanted to leave as soon as possible.
Mal turned to me guiltily when I caught up to him. "I know, I know, you're totally pissed!" He soothed, putting his hands up as if to shield himself from the daggers coming out of my eyes.
"Pissed?" I hissed. "Not exactly Mal! Humiliated? Petrified? Enraged? Yeah, I think those cover it a bit more! How could you and Mina do this to me? And tonight of all nights!"
"Serena, don't be mad! I swear we didn't even know until a few days ago. I asked her about her plans for Christmas, and she told me, and we just sort of figured it out…" He explained.
"And you weren't going to tell me? How could you do this? I think we've both had enough surprises!" I protested shrilly, and I winced as a few people glanced over at us curiously.
"Look, he needed to see you, and you needed to see him. It's all very… necessary. If you knew, you never would have come, and neither would he. Trust me," he pleaded.
"Mal, I can't even breathe right now! All he's going to do is ignore me all night, and I'm going to go home and try to forget about it. I hate you both so much right now," I murmured despairingly, pushing past him. "Thanks a lot."
I could feel Mal's remorseful looks on my back as I stalked into the dining room and took my place next to my father. Unsurprisingly, Darien was seated right across from me, but I refused to look at him. My father shot me a questioning glance, but I shook my head and reached for my napkin.
"Are you okay?" he whispered, and I shook my head as tears threatened to well in my lids.
"I'll be fine when this night is over," I answered, taking a sip from my water-glass. For a moment my eyes met Darien's, but he looked away hastily.
"So, Serena…" Mrs. Shields suddenly piped up, and I raised looked up to see her smiling at me. "You attend Madison?"
I swallowed hard. "I did," I answered tentatively.
"Did?" she wondered. "Are you not there anymore?"
"No," I replied, reddening a little. "I was only there for this semester."
"Really? Did you not like it?" She asked, looking slightly surprised.
"No!" I quickly interjected, and Darien raised his head. "I loved it," I murmured. "I was just…"
"Homesick," Mal broke in. "We all loved Sere, but she was always thinking about home. She's a twin, you know!"
"Really Serena? You're a twin?" Mrs. White inquired brightly. I nodded.
"Yes, I have a sister named Mina. She's actually a few floors above us. Bad bout with food poisoning…" I answered before I could stop myself.
Unsurprisingly, a few people at the table glanced down suspiciously at the plates of food before them.
"Hopefully she didn't have the chicken?" Mr. White wondered, glancing at me expectantly.
"Actually it was the escargot," I assured him, and couldn't help but smile as Mrs. White quickly flagged down a waiter. I could only guess it was to change her order.
"So you knew the boys then?" Mrs. Shields inquired.
My smile suddenly felt extremely tight. "Yes," I answered quickly. "I did know them."
"How strange! I would have thought Darien would have told me about such a beautiful and charming young lady…"
At the mention of his name, Darien suddenly choked on the spoonful of soup he had been placing in his mouth, and my blush deepened. He coughed roughly, and after glancing at me with disinterest, he shrugged his shoulders.
"Must've slipped my mind," he murmured sarcastically.
"I don't know," his mother interjected. "I do remember you mentioning a young lady a few months ago, but I don't remember you saying she attended your school."
"I didn't," he replied coldly. He looked at me, and I was forced to look away. "It was a different girl."
I felt the blood drain from my face at his icy reply, but my heart warmed a little as my father reached down to grip my hand. He leveled Darien with a somewhat threatening stare, and for a moment, Darien looked almost ashamed of himself.
Mrs. Shields, however, continued on, unfazed. "Well now that you are no longer attending Madison, what are your plans for the future?"
"I still intend to go to college," I assured her. "I'm just not using Madison as a means to get in!"
"Brave girl!" Mr. Shields joked with a wink.
Mrs. Shields ignored her husband. "Which schools are you planning to apply to?"
"Well, New York University is my first choice, but if it doesn't work out there are some wonderful instate schools I would be more than happy to attend…" I put in tentatively.
"And your major would be?" She wondered.
"Journalism," I answered without hesitation. "I've always wanted to write."
"Very interesting," she remarked, yet there was something in her tone that made me frown. "Darien used to talk of attending NYU in the past… Of course his father and I never approved. Harvard is far more illustrious school when concerning pre-med students, but I'm sure NYU will be more than sufficient for your studies."
A vibrant blush suddenly stained Darien's cheeks, and for a moment I realized just how much pressure his parents must place on him in regards to his future. No wonder he didn't have the guts to share his love of photography with them.
"Well, Serena," Mrs. Shields began, and I was once again forced to divert my attention from her son's dismal features. "How will your boyfriend handle you living so far away when school starts?"
It was now my turn to blush. "I-I don't have a boyfriend," I murmured. "So I don't think I'll have much to worry about there."
"No boyfriend?" she repeated with a smile. "Well then you must dance with one of the boys after dinner! Darien," she called gently down the table, and I saw Darien visibly stiffen. "After dinner you must take little Serena out for a turn on the dance floor!" She focused her attention back to me, and leaned in as if sharing a deep secret. "He's a wonderful dancer!" she whispered loudly.
"Yes, mother," was Darien's short reply, and as her smile widened, I caught sight of her husband unobtrusively rolling his eyes.
I half expected Mrs. Shields to ask me if I danced, however much to my relief she seemed finished with her inquisition, and as the courses continued, I began to tune out the varying forms of conversation around me. Every now and again I would allow my gaze to lift in Darien's direction, and on more than one occasion I found him staring quite obviously back at me. Any other girl probably would have found this attention flattering, but I knew Darien better, and that coldness behind his blue eyes was anything but flirtatious.
So it was that I finished the dinner mostly in silence. I managed to mention how delicious I found the meal (when in reality I had barely tasted it), and (when asked) I informed Mrs. White where I had purchased my dress. All in all, it was fairly uneventful, but I couldn't hide my relief when my father gently pulled me aside as we were leaving the table.
"I know this must be extremely difficult for you, and although I have only a small idea of what is going on, I have every intention of getting us out of here as soon as possible," he said gently.
"It's okay," I assured him wearily. "This was your dinner before it ever became my drama fest. Mina should have known better, and I don't think your business should suffer over this."
"I suffer when you suffer, my dear," my father murmured with a smile, placing a gentle finger under my chin. I managed a small smile. "We'll leave at the first opportunity."
"Thanks dad," I whispered, and he nodded.
We turned and began heading towards the doors leading back into the ballroom, but our progress was quickly hindered by traffic. People milled around us, and in seconds I lost sight of my father. I stopped for a moment, and struggled to find his face among all the suits and ladies. I groaned inwardly realizing it was going to be nearly impossible to find him in the ballroom, let alone the rest of our party.
"Shit," I muttered. "What am I going to do now?"
I jumped as someone suddenly grabbed my wrist and turned only to see Darien staring down at me grimly.
"The music started again. My mother wants me to dance with you," he muttered.
I glanced over at his shoulders and saw Mrs. Shields waving at me enthusiastically. My father was at her side looking a little worried. I turned my gaze back to Darien, and nodded in compliance, allowing him to lead me to the dance floor. I couldn't help but shiver slightly as he placed his arms around me and the smell of roses and spices invaded my nostrils. I inhaled deeply without thinking, remembering that day in the diner, but Darien didn't seem to notice.
"What are you doing here, Serena?" he said finally.
"I'm here with my father," I answered without looking up. "This is his big night"
"You didn't have other motivations?" he wondered.
"No," I returned. "I never expected to see you again."
He chuckled derisively and gently pushed me back for a turn. "Somehow with all your calculating I highly doubt that," he sneered.
My eyes narrowed, and as I spun back into him I allowed my elbow to connect sharply with his ribcage. He grunted and winced in pain.
"Oh I'm sorry!" I apologized, my tone dripping with feigned sympathy. "I must have miscalculated just how far away you were!"
His lips pressed into a thin white line, but my expression remained defiant. "You're a trip, you know that?" He managed to gritted teeth, releasing me.
"A trip huh?" I returned sarcastically at his retreating back. "It's nice to see your vocabulary has improved where your etiquette fell short!"
He turned around, and raised an eyebrow. "Well, what do you expect? Do you want me to be all phony and polite like Mal and my mother? You've got to be kidding!" The venom in those simple words brought the beginnings of hot tears to my eyes, but I blinked them back.
"I don't know what I expected," I retorted hotly, only vaguely aware of the couples surrounding us. "Civility? Basic manners? I know forgiveness and friendship seem to be completely out of the question!"
He laughed bitterly. "I think you ruined any chances of that when you lied to me for four months," he snapped, starting away again.
I stopped and tore at his shoulder, turning him towards me so quickly he uttered a startled cry. "And I think you need to think up a better excuse for being so awful to me!" I whispered fiercely. "Yes, I lied to you, but I loved you every minute I did it! I've apologized to you, I've suffered without you, and I've had to restart my life from scratch now that it's all over. I made my peace knowing our friendship is something you'll never want again, and these last hours in your presence have absolutely killed me! I'm really sorry for any pain I may have caused you, but there is nothing more I can lay at your feet. I didn't know you were going to be here. If I would have, I never would have come. You can hate me all you want, but I'll be damned if you ruin my father's night over something I did!"
The fury flowing through my veins was almost too much for me to bear. Darien gazed at me with a similar expression, but for the first time I saw a spark of contrition in his handsome features.
"Grow up, Darien," I spat, and the tears that threatened did fall. "There are worse things to hate someone for!"
I turned and fled, not caring where I was going, and nearly ran over Malcolm who had come to see what was keeping the two of us.
"Tell my father I went back to the room," I cried as I pushed past him.
"Serena!" he called out to me, but I ignored him and continued on until I reached the door and entered the main hallway.
I tried in vain to pull myself together as I crossed the lobby, but my tear-streaked face received more than one curious look. I started towards the elevator, but changed my mind and headed for the doors that led outside. A blast of icy air washed over my still-wet cheeks, and I gasped as it instantly chilled my red-hot skin. I gulped in the night air greedily, fueling the sobs already rising in my throat. Within minutes, the tears stopped. A few moments after that, my shoulders stopped shaking with rage and only continued because of the cold. I wrapped my arms around myself, but refused to return indoors. The evening was frigid, but it was helping to clear my mind and strengthen my resolve. Darien and I were truly over. The boy I had fallen in love with was gone. Maybe he had never existed in the first place.
I let loose a bitter sigh, and watched the vapor from my mouth rise towards the gathering clouds above. A cold, feathery substance suddenly brushed my cheek, and a small smile came to my lips as I realized it had began to snow. Snowflakes fell into my open palms, grazed my bare shoulders, and even caught in the small curls framing my face. I felt a chuckle rising in my throat, but it was silenced as a warm fabric was suddenly draped around my shoulders. I whirled to find Darien standing there, jacketless and devastatingly handsome in the snow.
"I'm sorry," he said softly. Tears I thought had finally dried up began to flow freely again.
"I've hated myself ever since I left Madison," I sobbed. "I never meant to hurt you," I covered my face with my hands.
Warm fingers suddenly took hold of my own, and I desperately tried to look away as my hands were pulled away. Darien peered down at me, but my eyes remained glued to the awning above. He wiped away my tears tenderly, and I sniffled, feeling like a stupid kid.
"I know," he murmured. "I've just been so stubborn, and so confused. You have to admit, it was a lot to handle."
"I said I was sorry!" I choked out, suddenly ready to argue, but couldn't manage anything else as I was lost in his eyes. His face was suddenly close, so impossibly close… it was just like that night in the clearing… "What are you doing?" I managed, but I already knew.
"You were right Serena. There are worse things to hate someone for," he smiled kindly at me. "Let's try this again," he whispered, and before I could say anything else, his arms were around me, and his soft lips were gently warming my own.
Still more to come! Review please!