Title: When the Inside Wants Out
Chapter 11: Confession
AN: This is such a random update... I've been away for so long and couldn't figure out whether or not to finish this story, but all of a sudden, ideas came to me and I thought... hey, I should get this chapter out! lol! So, I apologize once again for the long wait! I really appreciate everyone who has been reading since the beginning, and even new readers! Your reviews and positive comments keep me going! Thanks so much! Love you!:)
"I can't believe you, Takeshi. It's pretty low that I had to come here and discuss this with you," Fantine huffed as she sat next to me on her bed, holding one of her stuffed animals. I hadn't seen her in at least a week since our argument, or made an effort to even call or apologize for what happened at the love hotel. Francine was right to be pissed at me, but I couldn't muster up concern over it. All I could think about was Liz and the way I'd treated her over the past few days.
Hell, over the past year.
"I thought you said nothing ever happened between you two," Fantine gave me a hurt look. I snapped back to reality in an instant.
"What? Me and…me and Liz? No! I swear," I squeezed my eyes shut to block out some old memories.
'But maybe I should have taken the chance.'
"Then how do you explain—
"—come on, the hotel again?" I sighed.
"Of course the hotel again!" Francine bit at me. Her eyes were narrowed almost to slits. I'd never seen her so angry before.
"And it's not just the hotel…" her voice was edgy. "It's the way you always hang out with her. It's not normal."
"Not normal?" I scoffed loudly. "I stopped hanging around with her the first time you said it bothered you, Fantine, but honestly, why do I have to sacrifice a friend just because you're insecure!"
"Insecure?" Fantine was fuming. "Is that what you think this is? Everyone with half a brain knows that she has feelings for you! You can't be that dense."
I didn't respond right away. Instead, I looked at the bed sheets and studied the pink checkerboard pattern. I wasn't dense. Of course there were rumors about Liz having a crush and I knew what I'd felt for her in the past, but that was just it.
I pictured Liz for a moment and shook my head. Liz and I had always been great friends, but lately that had disintegrated. Deep down, I felt I knew why, but didn't want to admit it. Ever since Fantine came back and their flirtatious summer had ended, I began to push her away.
"I chose you, didn't I?" I spoke bitterly, gaze still down. Fantine pushed her white stuffed bear into my chest with a force so hard it knocked me to the floor.
"As if that's supposed to mean something!" she cried.
"We hung out during the summer," I said firmly. "Nothing happened. I mean, god forbid I hang out with a friend while my girlfriend is off doing god knows what in another country!"
"We weren't together then," Fantine's voice was stiff and quiet. "If you wanted to screw her, you should have gotten it out of your system then like any other person would. You can't carry on this ridiculous relationship now!"
"So is that what you did?"I chuckled, though I was boiling over with anger. "You used your little break in France to screw other guys while I waited on you?"
"Takeshi…" Fantine just chewed her lips. "I'm here now. I want you now. Will you give me all of yourself?"
I glared at the floor and thanked God when my cell phone buzzed from inside my pocket. It was just a message from Amy, but I was thrilled for the temporary distraction.
Takeshi, where the hell r u?
Practice started an hr ago! We r racing V-stein tmmrw, you know that?
This is ur last chance. R u really going to lose to him?
I stared at the last line of the message, a death grip on my phone. Liz was the one who usually sent the angry texts, but it seemed Amy had slid into place just fine. But that line… I knew what she meant.
'Him…'I clenched my fists and then turned for the door without a word.
"So that's it?" Fantine murmured. "You're running out on this?"
From the bed, I could feel Fantine looking at me expectantly, but I couldn't bring myself to meet her eyes. It was time to for me to fess up to what I'd known all along.
When I finally arrived at the Team Satomi Training Facility, I expected to see Amy and Liz on the treadmill as usual. However, as soon as I stepped in, there was no one to greet me. The equipment was barren and only the faint whirring of the air conditioning could be heard.
"Was this a joke?" I muttered, looking at my watch, but as soon as I asked the question, I got my answer.
From the locker rooms came Amy and Liz, dressed in sweats, chatting between themselves. Liz didn't look like the angry, bundle of nerves I'd seen last night at her house. When she spoke with Amy, it was smooth and natural.
"That dress was serious business," I watched as Amy gave Liz a little nudge in her ribs. Liz didn't respond physically, but shrugged, seemingly at a loss for words.
"Jean Paul-frickin'-Gautier," Amy emphasized the name loudly. "It has to cost thousands!"
A pink hue spread over Liz's cheeks and I felt tense.
"Keep your voice down, will you?" she scolded. "Besides, what do you think – he can just buy me with a damn dress?"
"Ha, right." Amy pulled off her jacket and slung it over an elliptical machine. "Good strategy. If I was you I'd keep holding out for a house. Maybe a Benz."
"You're horrible," Liz shook her head, but even from afar I saw the inklings of a smirk on her lips. It was infectious, and if I wasn't so worried, I would have smiled too.
Never in a million years would I be able to afford the things Cunningham could. Even racing IGPX, I could never give her even half as much. Alex came from money, and though my family did decently, he could outdo me ten times over in that sense.
When Amy cocked her head to the side and caught a glimpse of me, I straightened up and tried not to sulk. I was behaving like a child. Like I'd tossed aside a perfectly good toy and was now pissed that the neighborhood kid was having fun with it.
'But she's…she's not a toy.'
"Hey Takeshi, it's about time!" Amy piped up and waved me over.
It was then I saw Liz's expression sour. Her shoulders tensed, her frown deepened, and her brows knitted together in thought.
"Hey Amy…" I tried to approach as normal, but it was hard to stay focused when Liz's fiery aura was surrounding me.
"…Liz," I finished, meeting her eyes.
"Yeah…well," Amy gave an awkward little stretch. "I'm gonna go talk to Andre real quick."
I tried to catch her arm to bring her back, but Amy was quick to slip from my hold and down another hall.
"She's painfully obvious, huh?" Liz sighed and tossed off her own jacket.
I tried not to stare, but the heavy fabric sliding off her tanned shoulders was strangely arousing.
For a moment, I was frozen. Liz wore a regular tank top as usual, but today I couldn't notice but focus on the way it fit her. Really fit her – like a glove to skin. I saw everything from the full curves of her breasts to the lean, taught muscles across her stomach. As much as it bothered me, I couldn't help but wonder if Cunningham had touched those places – if he'd trailed kisses along her ample cleavage or felt those lovely muscles tense when she—
I shook my head, cheeks hot. It wasn't as if I'd never had a sexual thought about Liz – I was human, and a guy at that, but never was I prompted to act on it. We had always been friends, but ever since she'd been going with Cunningham, I'd been…bothered. I'd never been able to have it all with Liz, the friendship and the other, but all of a sudden he waltzes in and it was so easy.
"Look, no matter what happens between us off the track…well, that's where we leave it…right?" Liz's smooth voice shook me back to reality. "We don't have to be friends, but we do have to work together."
Her words cut, but it made perfect sense. Over the course of a few days, I'd done possibly irreparable damage to our already strained relationship.
"Liz…about last night…" I started. "I was only looking out for you."
"You could have fooled me," she responded sharply, but then sighed. "Look, let's just not talk about this right now."
She walked off without even looking at me again and I had no choice but to follow. For now, at least, I knew what was the end of it.
When we headed into the training center again, I expected to see the regular treadmill setup, but instead Mark and Amy were standing beside each other in front of a large computer screen, beaming.
"What's this?" Liz asked, as puzzled as I was.
"A new set-up," Andre gestured to three dark leather seats positioned in front of an array of controls. Hanging down from the ceiling were countless wires and restraints.
"It looks more like torture," I replied, smirking. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Amy laugh and Liz's lips twitch up in a strained smile.
"Ha-ha," Andre turned down the lights in the room. "Look, we've done virtual simulations before, but this is different."
Amy, Liz and I watched with wide eyes as Andre pulled out a set of goggles and gloves that were attached to the large set-up.
"Liz, com'ere. You first," Andre took a puzzled Liz by the hand and helped her onto the stand in front of one of the chairs.
Amy and I took seats in front of her and watched expectantly. As soon as Andre helped her into a pair of boots and a slim, black jacket, Liz slouched forward.
"Woah! Man, it's like the real weight…" she lifted her foot experimentally and the screen behind her lit up.
"What's it like?" Amy perked up.
"When I look through the goggles, I can see the track. It's like being inside my mech!" Liz laughed and I was delighted to hear the light back in her voice.
"Neat, huh? You guys can train and practicing formations without ever going on the track. The body harness, gloves and boots simulate the real weight and as you move. The first activity I'll have Liz cycle through is agility and decision-making."
Liz cocked her head, puzzled.
"Pay attention to what you see in the goggles and hear around you. I've uploaded sound bites from previous races so you'll be able to hear things from Amy, Takeshi, and other teams on the track. The objective is to cancel out the extraneous and focus on the task at hand," Andre turned on the screen and all of a sudden, I could see the track.
"What do you see, Liz?" Amy piped up.
"The IGPX track!" Liz smiled. "So all I have to do is race the track?"
"Yep," Andre had a hint of mirth in his voice. "In 3…2…1…"
As soon as the countdown was over, I watched Liz's body jerk into action. Every muscle on her body seemed to tense up and loud beeping noise sounded off. On the screen, Liz's mech whizzed down the track.
"Relax," Andre warned. "That beeping is from a heart rate monitor. A little adrenaline is natural, but don't let yourself get worked up. If you do, it only throws your focus off."
Liz moved backward and her posture corrected itself. I watched the track whizz by on the screen as she moved and felt each turn and curve with her. Everything was smooth until all of a sudden, Amy's voice was projected.
"Don't be in such a rush! Pay attention!"
Amy laughed as she heard the recording. It was from their last race with Sledge Mamma. The heart monitor beeped steadily for a moment, then went silent. Out of the right on the screen came another mech, preparing to ram into her, but Liz swiftly dodged.
"Amazing!" she smiled.
"Glad you're enjoying it. The course is almost over, so I'll let you run it, Amy," Andre ushered the young genius up to the master computer.
"I'll see you three later," he waved us off, but I wasn't paying attention. Like Liz, I was focused on the race.
The track curved again, sharply, and Liz leaned into it. On her right, another large mech came into view. It was rushing on her, and I could see Liz tense up. She was a defender. It was her job to prevent anyone from muscling through her. My eyes narrowed as I focused in on her stance and I could tell she was stressing.
While we raced, I never noticed things like that. I assumed it came natural to her, but just as I had to struggle to focus as the forward, so did Liz as a defender.
"Come on!" she crouched a little, hand posed to strike. "Try it! I dare you!"
The mech swerved back and forth on the track, taunting her. Liz moved her hips slightly to matched and I couldn't take my eyes off her. Just as she shot out a hand to block it, another voice came through the speaker.
"You're going to slip up, Takeshi. Intention is all well and good, but…"
It was Cunningham, clear as day.
A simple sound clip from an interview we'd done together once, and although the context was wrong, it startled me.
My eyes went back to Liz and I saw that apparently, it had done the same to her.
Liz jerked her hand down suddenly and her heart rate sped up. A loud, rapid, beeping noise filled the room and I had to cover my ears.
"Amy!" I snapped. "Amy shut that off!"
"Intention is only half the battle," the sound clip continued. The large mech barreled past and all of a sudden, the screen shook. Liz topped over as if she had gotten the wind knocked out of her, and ripped off the goggles in anger.
"Shit! That came out of nowhere…" she said, panting heavily, but she wouldn't look me in the eye.
"It didn't! Don't lie, Liz." I couldn't help myself. "You saw it, but you froze up when you heard—
"—you know, you're getting damn good at giving your opinion when it's not wanted!" Liz began to strip out of the weights and Amy moved quickly to get in between us.
"Wait, wait! Don't start fighting!" Amy tried to hold onto Liz's arm and keep her from moving, but she was determined. "It was just a simulation!"
"Let go, Amy!" Liz got right up in my face. "You didn't want anything to do with me until Alex! You didn't even want anything to do with the team!"
"Yeah, yeah well I was wrong!" I spat out, and Liz's eyes went wide with shock. It was a shitty way to be apologizing, but I didn't know what else to say.
"I was wrong," I lowered my voice. "I should have been there for the team. I…I should have been there for you… and Amy."
Amy let go of Liz's wrist and turned her back on us to give us space. Liz still seemed shocked into silence.
"You were right," I told her. "I let the fame get to my head. I convinced myself that as long as we were winning, there was no problem. And…I was wrong. I was so wrong."
"You don't understand," Liz was quiet. She seemed to be thinking deeply about something, but at least she didn't look mad. I scooped both of her hands in mine.
"Then help me understand, why don't you?"
Liz started to open her mouth again, but at that moment, there was a loud knocking sound. All three of us turned our heads towards the doorway and saw none other than Alex Cunningham Hume standing there, holding a bouquet of flowers bigger than his head. He was smiling, completely oblivious to the tension in the room, and looking at no one else but Liz.
Amy seemed ticked, and wouldn't look at me. I dragged my gaze back to Liz and saw her blushing.
"What are you doing here?" she rushed up to the doorway and grabbed hold of Alex's hand. They let the glass door shut behind them, but I stayed glued, watching the interaction.
"Takeshi," Amy tried to distract me. "You want to give the simulation a try?"
"Gee. How could anyone compete with that?" I ignored her and scoffed, watching Alex bring Liz close to his chest. She seemed embarrassed, but took the flower bouquet with both hands.
"It's only money," Amy put her hand on my shoulder. "You can't help who you love."
"What? Are you crazy? Who said anything about love?" I smiled it off, but felt a pain in my chest when Alex leaned in to kiss Liz.
I turned away as their faces started to come together, and when I looked back up, they were both standing away from each other. Liz was holding the flowers, and had one hand pushing open the glass door.
"Dinner, at seven? My place?"
I heard Alex speak when the door opened under the weight of her hand. Liz nodded brusquely, and turned back to face us. I couldn't help but notice the bright flush of pink on her cheeks, and the confident smile on Alex's lips.
"Sorry…about…" she mumbled under her breath, but didn't finish the sentence. Amy's eyes darted frantically between me and Liz, but when I remained silent, she heaved a sigh and scurried to Liz's side.
"Wow, those are beautiful!" She scooped the roses from Liz's arms and I scowled. It was dumb of me because I didn't know what I'd been expecting, anyway. For Amy, Liz would always come first. That was the kind of friendship they had.
"Yeah…" Liz pushed a bit of hair behind her ear and smiled. It was a surprisingly girlish motion, and it pissed me off.
"He's really a good guy," Amy eyed me sharply as she gave Liz's shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
I looked to Liz for a reaction, but she only nodded, and turned back to the simulator.
"Let's run it again, okay?"
After at least ten trials at the simulator to clean up dynamics and form, Liz, Amy and I went our separate ways to pack up. As I changed my clothing in the locker room, however, I could hear their voices carrying over from their side of the hall.
"So what's going on with you and Alex tonight?" Amy sounded peppy as usual.
"Dinner, his place." Liz answered, and though it was terrible of me, I was glad to hear a lack of enthusiasm in her voice.
"You don't sound excited," Amy got quieter. "Are you still thinking about what he did to you? Did he even apologize?"
The question made me uneasy. 'What he did to you?' I thought of the trouble I'd stirred up at Liz's house and how angry Cunningham had been when I'd left.
'Shit. What if he hit her or something? That prick…' I clenched my fists and leaned in around the corner to hear better.
"I…I don't really want to talk about it, Amy. We'll see how things go and I'll call you later, okay?" Liz was quick to blow off the question and I heard the sound of her locker shutting.
"Oh…well, alright." Amy's followed suit. "Stay safe!"
There was a quick shuffling, and then before I could step away, Amy pushed through the door separating the men and women's changing area. Though it collided with my chest, she didn't seem the least bit surprised to see me standing there.
"Dear God, you're really fucking lame, Takeshi," she shook her head at me and I frowned.
"When'd you turn into such a foul mouthed kid?" I wondered aloud.
"I suppose around the same time you turned into a dick." she slung her gym bag over one shoulder with a wide grin. "Look, if you're not going to do something about how you feel, you've gotta drop this. Alex and Liz clearly have a thing going."
"And you support it?" I scoffed at her.
"Liz is my friend. No matter what, I support her. At least Alex is trying!"
Yeah, I glared at the ground. I'm sure he is.
When I didn't respond, Amy shook her head at me and started off. "The best thing you could do is just leave her alone," she called back over her shoulder. "You hear me? Make a move or leave her the fuck alone!"
I was about to shout back when, as if on cue, Liz pushed through the door carrying her roses and dress box under one arm. In the other, her full gym bag.
"Need some help?" I tried to act innocent. Liz seemed awkward at first, but then gave me the handle of her gym bag.
"Thanks man," she cradled the gifts in her arms with a smile that I couldn't help but return. I wanted to say something, but Liz beat me to it.
"Look… I appreciate the apology you gave back there," she sighed. "I just…I've been holding onto a lot of shit since last summer and…"
I watched Liz struggle with her words and the anxious way she squeezed the roses to her chest. It was stupid, but I couldn't help but think she looked cute when she was flustered. Softer, more vulnerable.
Instead of allowing her to flounder, I spoke up.
"I didn't realize I'd lost myself in this," I said sincerely. "The racing and all the fame and Fantine…but I know now, and it's over."
"Over?" Liz's brows knitted together. "T-takeshi…you mean you and Fantine…"
"It's no big deal!" I tried to break the tension with a laugh that was far too loud. "We weren't meant to be, I guess. Déjà vu, huh? You were the fist person I told last time, too."
"I remember." Liz didn't look at me.
I wanted her to smile, but instead she reached for the gym bag with a mumbled, "I should go."
"That summer was the best of my life," I blurted. Again, Liz offered me nothing.
"You were there for me," I tried again. "And we…I mean I…I really felt some—
"—Takeshi, don't start, okay?" Liz finally snapped. She wanted to push past, but I blocked her path.
We were close – my body hovering over hers against the wall – covering, but never really touching. I could feel her heat, and hear her breath, and it made me feel so good. So good that I couldn't help but wonder whether Cunningham felt that way all the time.
"What?" I couldn't keep the husky tone out of my voice. Liz raised her gaze to my face, and for a moment, I swear I saw a trace of blush on her cheeks.
Unfortunately, it was short lived. Before I could even think of leaning in, she used all her strength to shove me back.
"Why now?" she growled.
"What?" I stumbled briefly, but then managed to get my footing. Liz was livid and coming at me with a deadly glare.
"I said, why now? I thought it was fucking clear that summer what I felt for you, but you threw it away and ignored me for Fantine! And now that I'm with Cunningham you're coming at me with this 'feelings' bullshit?"
Liz got a better hold on her things and started off again. As soon as she turned her back on me, I felt my stomach drop. If she walked away then, I knew she would be walking out of my life forever. All I could think about was Liz in Cunningham's arms, in Cunningham's bed, in his world, and I couldn't just let that happen.
"Liz, I was in love with you!" Frantic, I grabbed her wrist. "I'm still in love with you!"