Inferiority

Chapter 20

He was looking at me. His eyes swept up and down my frame, and then they landed back on mine. He wasn't smiling or frowning or…anything, really. His face was deadpan, so I couldn't decipher what he could be thinking.

God, it seemed like forever since I had seen him last. I had missed him so much. And I had been angry at him too. But mostly angry at myself for ruining everything.

I turned back around quickly. LeeAnn was whisper-yelling at me. "I told you not to turn around!"

I blinked. What was he doing here? How could he…?

Oh, God. This was going to be difficult. And not just breaking it to LeeAnn that the "totally hot guy" was looking at me, not her.

I could still feel him looking at me. His eyes were burning a hole in my back. I knew he was trying to get me to turn around again, to talk to him. But I couldn't bring myself to even move a finger.

Maybe part of it was that I was still mad at him for not coming after me. Well, I suppose he did, if he was there then, but still. It took him long enough.

"Suze," LeeAnn said.

I blinked and looked at her. "Huh?"

"Let's go. Trev's gonna be there at seven, so we better go." I nodded and we both stood up. Then she giggled again and whispered, "I'm gonna go see if I can get his number."

I nodded, knowing what was going to happen. I should just wait outside and pretend its not happening, I told myself.

But I stayed right where I was.

I heard them talking. And then LeeAnn saying, "Oh, o-of course. Let me go get her."

She came back to the table, where I was waiting. "He wants to talk to you," she said, her voice taking on a bitter tone.

Oh, great. So she's mad at me. Whatever.

I nodded and took a breath. I couldn't just walk away then. LeeAnn would just nag me the whole way and Paul would find a way to talk to me. Knowing him, he already knew what dorm I was staying in.

I walked up to him slowly and (somewhat) shakily. He half-smiled at me as I strode over to him, but I kept my face deadpan.

"Suze," he finally said.

I blinked. "What?"

"I need to talk to you."

"You are."

He darted a glance back at LeeAnn. "Alone."

I swallowed and nodded. I wasn't really capable of speech, other than a few words here and there. His sudden presence had me speechless and it was starting to annoy me. I wasn't always like that around him, so why was this time different?

I looked back at LeeAnn, who was glowering near the doorway. I don't think a guy has purposely wanted to see me instead of her. It would shock me too, if the guy didn't happen to be Paul.

"Hold on," I mumbled and walked back to LeeAnn.

"Look," I said to her. "I'll explain everything later. But I need to talk to him alone. There are some things that we need to sort out."

She narrowed her eyes. "Wait. You two know each other already?"

I nodded and let a nervous laugh escape. "Yeah."

"How?" she asked.

"Like I said, I'll explain everything later. But now…could you just, you know, leave?" I asked as nicely as I could.

She rolled her eyes. "Fine. But if you get laid, you're telling me everything."

I blinked. "Okay, now leave."

She smiled maliciously and left the café, leaving me alone with Paul.

"You always manage to acquire interesting friends, Suze."

I turned around. He was standing right in front of me. He was smiling at me, and I was so tempted to just fall into his arms and let him tell me that everything would be okay.

But I couldn't. Becauseeverything wasn't okay. I couldn't forget about everything that had happened between us and why I hadn't seen him in almost four months.

Seeing that I wasn't going to answer him, he sighed and said, "Let's go find somewhere to talk."

I nodded. "There's a park nearby. We can go there."

"Sounds good."

I led the way to the park, him walking alongside me. We didn't talk the whole way there, partly because I was at a loss for words and because I didn't want to be the first one to talk.

I came to the park daily. It was just a place where I could sit peacefully, without anyone disturbing me. It was something that I needed in my life, a sort of balance to the hectic school and work schedule I was going through.

I walked him over to my favorite bench that was positioned under a willow tree. It was shaded perfectly from the sun and gave the most beautiful view of the park in autumn. I figured it would be a good place to talk.

"Nice place," Paul commented.

I nodded. "Hmm," I agreed.

When had it become so difficult to talk to him? How come we couldn't easily strike up a conversation, like we used to? It was ridiculous. I wanted to scream.

"So…" he started. "What are you studying here?"

I figured I'd go along with the conversation. At least he was making an attempt. And…well, I didn't feel like confronting our problems just yet.

"Psychology. A little bit of Criminal Justice. You know."

He nodded and cracked a smile. "I figured you'd go into psych. You have a knack for understanding people."

But not you, I wanted to say.

"What about you? Where are you even going?"

"Stanford. And I figured you would have guessed by now what I'm doing."

I laughed. "Duh. Law. Forgive me, I'm kind of slow today."

He smiled. "Not a problem."

He looked a little nervous, which wasn't normal for Paul. What could he be nervous about? Was he here to take me back…or to break up with me permanently?

I shuddered at the last thought. Even though I survived without him for this long, I still would be devastated if he dumped me altogether. At least I had the hope that he would be back for me, but if he broke up with me now…

I tried not to think about it.

Yet…I had to know.

"Paul," I started. He gave me his undivided attention. "What…well, what are you doing here?"

His eyes searched my face, but I was beginning to be good at hiding my emotions. He settled for asking, "Isn't it obvious?"

I shook my head. "Not to me."

He nodded. "Right. Well, I figured…I've been doing some thinking and…"

Here it comes, I thought grimly.

"…I was wrong. What I said…it was horrible and I should never have put you in that position. I know you were still recuperating from his leaving and I probably just made everything worse for you. So…I'm sorry."

Took you long enough, I wanted to say. But I didn't. It was obvious, looking at his face, how he felt and just saying that would make it worse. I wanted to comfort him.

"It's…okay, Paul. Really. Its not like I was Miss Perfect myself. I'm sorry for what I said to you, too."

He was looking at me, a smile slowly growing on his face. Then he shook his head and laughed. "Wow, we really made a mess of things, huh?"

I laughed too. "Yeah, we did." I paused. "But…everything's alright now?"

He nodded. "Yes." He reached over and took my hand in his. "Everything's fine."

I smiled and leaned into him. I raised my hand to his cheek and rested it there, grazing the stubble there with my thumb. He put his arm around me and pulled me closer to him and then kissed my cheek. His lips were soft against my skin and I realized I needed him to be kissing me somewhere else (well, not there…at least, not yet).

I turned my head and raised my lips to meet his. He understood what I was doing and pressed his lips against mine tenderly, them softly caressing my own.

It wasn't a passionate, demanding kiss. It was a simple and forgiving one. It was one to indicate that we were starting over, fresh, anew.

And that was just fine with me.

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