Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Shizuka Usagi


Chapter 5

The day of the prom had finally come. Everyone was relieved that finals were over as well as school. However, this was just the beginning. They still had college and careers ahead of them. Although, today all that mattered was having a great time and enjoying your hard work paid off with your friends.

Sophia stood anxiously outside her door, awaiting Albel's arrival. He was to come to her house at 7:00 PM sharp. Since it was 7:15 PM, he was running slightly late. She hoped dearly he wouldn't forget about her. What could ruin her prom more than being dumped? Fayt had assured her he would come. He was a man of his word after all.

Actually, he was supposed to pick up the whole gang: Sophia, Fayt, Peppita, Roger, Nel, Mirage, Cliff and Maria in that order. Given that he is the richest person, excluding Nel, in the group. He and Nel had to do rock-paper-scissors to determine who would provide the limo. Albel lost, which was a great blow to his pride as a Glyphian, so he was forced to carpool.

Just then, the limo pulled up near her driveway. Sophia beamed and trotted over to the vehicle when a blonde middle-aged woman with blue eyes stepped out.

"You must be Miss Sophia Esteed, am I correct?" The woman asked politely.

"Um… yes and you are—" Sophia began but was interrupted.

"You are absolutely gorgeous, my dear." The woman complimented unabashed, causing Sophia to blush.

"Mother, please, can we get this over with?" A masculine voice said, approaching them.

"In a minute, darling. Where are my manners? My name is Isabel Nox. And, of course, you already know my son, Albel." Isabel said, introducing herself.

Wow. Even if she is a bit… forward, she is quite beautiful, Sophia though, giving the woman a look of admiration.

"Is this the girl you spoke of, Albel? You didn't tell me she would be so cute." A second masculine voice said, causing Sophia to blush twice in five minutes.

"Father…" Albel grumbled, crossing his arms. He wore a tuxedo that accentuated his form perfectly, no doubt tailored. He held a white corsage in his left hand.

"My name is Glou Nox. It is a pleasure, Miss Esteed." Glou said, shaking Sophia's hand firmly.

I can see where Albel gets his looks from, Sophia thought, glancing at his father then back to his mother. Glou had dark hair and red eyes. It seemed Albel's hair was a combination of his mother's and father's. His eyes were definitely his father's though.

"C'mon, Sophia." Sophia could see Albel tone was forced. Seeing as he didn't call her girl or wench in the presence of his parents. "Let's go. We still have to pick up the other mag—I mean—people." Without giving her another glance, he opened the door for her.

"What?" Sophia said in confusion.

Albel gave her a look that said get-in-the-car-stupid.

"What a gentleman…" His mother said proudly, making Sophia understand what Albel meant.

"Oh, of course. Thank you, Albel." Sophia said, slightly embarrassed. After she sat in the car, Albel followed. His parents sat in a different compartment of the limousine.

After everyone had been picked up, the chauffeur drove to Peterny High. When everyone got off, Albel cleared his throat.

"Yes, Albel?" Sophia said.

"Here." He handed her a white corsage that went nicely with her pastel pink dress. Sophia took it, noticing her hands brushing slightly against his.

"Thanks." Sophia said, showing her appreciation. Surprisingly, there wasn't a scowl on his face. His expression was unreadable.

"Aw…how sweet!" Peppita cooed, twirling around in her flowing dress. Roger and Cliff chuckled while Fayt grinned.

"C'mon, lovebirds. Let's go inside." Nel said smiling, while Albel bit back a retort about her and Cliff.

Cliff and Nel went in first, hooking their arms. The rest of the group followed their example. Next, came Fayt and Mirage, then Albel and Sophia. Lastly, were Roger and Peppita.

The prom was held outside in the courtyard. There was a large banner that read in bold letters: Class 06' Prom Night. There were two banquet tables on either side. In between them was the dance floor. There was a stage behind the dance floor for announcers and performers to stand.

"Wow, it's so pretty." Peppita squealed, jumping up and down while Roger tried to steady her.

"Calm down, Pep. The party hasn't even started yet." Cliff said with a huge grin.

"You mean the party hasn't started without you, Cliff." Nel corrected.

"I mean the party hasn't started without us." Cliff said, giving her a wink. Nel rolled her eyes.

"Don't forget us either, Cliff." Mirage notified with Fayt by her side.

"And us." Sophia said subsequent of Mirage.

"Bah, fools." Albel said not amused.

"Don't be a party pooper, Alby." Peppita reprimanded.

Albel growled at her. "You and the shrimp aren't even supposed to be here."

"Be nice, Albel. We're here to have fun. Bending the rules a little won't hurt…" Sophia said.

Albel was about to snap at her when Fayt shot him his you-make-her-upset-and-the-deal's-off glare.

"Fine." He said irritably. "I'll get drinks." He then stalked off toward the banquet table.

Sophia simply smiled and watched as Fayt and Mirage went to the dance floor. Roger and Peppita went to the game booths as she expected. Nel followed Cliff unwillingly to the buffet table.

Her thoughts drifted to Albel. She noticed the exchange between Fayt and Albel. Albel never listened to anybody unless they had something in it for him. She knew they were somewhat friends, but Albel had too much pride. She wondered what made Albel obey Fayt and act mildly good-natured. Do they have some sort of bet going on?

Suddenly, she overheard three people talking about her. She couldn't help but feel repulsed when she found out who they were. It was Luther and his two cronies. Luther was one of the popular people at Peterny High. Although, Sophia couldn't fathom why. His fake slickness and suaveness got him any girl he wanted. He had asked her out to the prom—but she outright refused. He had resentment towards her for ruining his rep.

"Good evening, Miss Esteed. You look lonely. Would you like some company?" He said in his smooth tone.

"No thanks. I'm already taken. I'm sure there are other girls who would like your company." Sophia said in an even tone. Luther's confident smirk faded. Behind him his associates snickered.

"You're taken by whom? Surely you don't mean Nox. You can do better than that." She frowned as he let out a condescending chortle.

As Albel returned with two glasses of punch, he overheard Luther degrading him. His insides blazed and he almost cracked the glasses he was holding from the pressure of his grip. He hated that prissy snob more than anything. He was about to go wring his neck when Sophia countered him.

"What about you, Luther? Since you're the most popular person in school, I'm surprised you still haven't found a date. 'Tis a shame." Sophia rejoined, mimicking his old-fashioned manner.

Luther began to grow angry. Not only had she rejected him in front of the entire school body, now she was making mockery of him.

"Is there a problem?" Albel questioned coldly as he handed Sophia a drink.

"In fact, there is. Are you going out with Miss Esteed of your own will or did Leingod bribe you?" Luther inquired, causing Sophia to give him a questioning look.

"That is none of your business. Why don't you sulk elsewhere, prat?" With that, Albel took a swig of his drink, ignoring Sophia altogether.

"Please, Miss Esteed, forget this obnoxious Airglyphian and come with me. I will not overlook you like he does." Luther persisted, advancing towards her.

"She already told you—get lost!" Albel growled, losing his patience.

"I wasn't talking to you, Nox. Besides, I think it is quite low for a gentleman to be using a lady."

"What are you talking about, maggot?"

"Miss Esteed, did you know Nox is only going out with you because of a bet he and Leingod made? I overheard them outside the Nox manor. Fayt said that if Nox took you to the prom, he would give Nox back his precious Crimson Scourge."

Sophia gasped. "Is this true, Albel?"

"…"

"Looks like you're speechless—Oof!" Luther's rambling was cut off when Albel punched him hand in the face with his gauntlet. He stumbled backward. He would've fallen if his assistants didn't catch him.

Smartly, Albel held back his strength so no blood would flow. However, now Luther sported a lovely bruise on his cheek. His icy blue eyes filled with disdain. "How dare you hit me! Augh..." Luther coughed violently.

Albel smirked. "Apparently, I didn't hit you hard enough—if you're still talking." He leaned close to Luther. "You're pretty low to spy on the Nox manor just to dig up some dirt on me. How pathetic."

Sophia noticed a crowd had formed around the fight. "Albel, let's go."

He cracked his knuckles threateningly before he left the scene. "That's what you get for messing with a Nox."

"Sophia! What on earth is going on? Are you alright?" A voice familiar to Sophia cried out.

"Ameena! Is that you?" Sophia clasped her hands together in delight.

"Of course, it is my dear cousin. But what is all the commotion about?"

"Nothing out of the ordinary. It was just Luther trying to hit on me." Sophia wrinkled her nose in disgust.

"That man is always up to no good." Ameena shook her head. "Anyway, it is good to see you."

"Indeed, it is. How is it up in Aquios?"

"Wonderful. I plan on starting Runological studies there."

"Really? Me too. Maybe—"

"Humph." Albel hummed, alerting the two girls of his presence.

"Hello, Mr. Albel Nox. I trust you are treating my cousin well?" Sophia laughed nervously at this and Albel snorted. "Anyhow, I need to catch up with Dion. It was great to see you, Sophia." Ameena hugged Sophia before setting off to find Dion.

"Albel about earlier—" Sophia began seriously.

"If you want to know about the bet, then, yes it was true." Albel stated emotionlessly.

"So you were just using me to get your sword back!" Sophia said, her voice steadily rising. She felt her eyes well up with tears—but she didn't dare let them show.

"I have to get that sword back. If I don't, my father will have my head." Albel said.

Sophia mustered up the best glare she could. "Well, you can tell Fayt to take the bet and shove it!"

Albel seemed slightly taken back. He didn't think she would talk back to her. Suddenly, Sophia turned on her heel and sped off in the opposite direction.

"Wait up, girl!"

She ignored him and ran out of the buffet area and towards the exit of the courtyard. There was a secluded place behind a water fountain where she decided to sit down. She tried to compose and convince herself to make the best of the prom. It was supposed to be one of the most memorable days of your life. But she wasn't able to keep a smile on for long. Her face twisted in pain and she broke down into tears.

When she heard footsteps approaching, she wiped her tears away hastily. She knew who the person was by the waft of his cologne from the light breeze. She felt him come closer and sit next to her. She was surprised he would bother following her. She managed to keep the hurt out of her voice when she questioned his presence.

"What do you want?" Sophia inquired firmly.

"I…" Albel began but then he shut his mouth. Sophia was beginning to lose her patience.

"I…what?" She demanded, gritting her teeth.

"I suppose you aren't as bad as I thought." Albel continued. His usual gruff tone was softened.

Sophia was oblivious to the honesty of his statement. Because of this she nearly exploded. She was tired of his enigmatic answers. Why couldn't he say sorry like a normal person? "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Despite the fact that you are bothersome at times, you're not as bad as I thought." Then he added so quietly that Sophia could barely hear. "A man of my honor should have known better than to treat you like that."

This time the sincerity of his words was blatant. "Do…you really mean that Albel?"

"You stuck up for yourself against that blonde-haired maggot. Therefore, I respect that. And yet, you sure are troublesome."

Although the meaning of his words was well hidden, Sophia conceived it. She was surprised Albel didn't allow his pride to get the best of him. "Alright, I'll give you another chance—on one condition."

"What is it, girl?" Albel's usual demeanor returned.

"I want you to try to enjoy yourself at the prom. Don't be so stiff and indifferent. It is our last memory of high school, you know." Sophia informed smiling.

"Humph…fine." Albel agreed reluctantly. The two walked arm in arm back to the stage area where the main events of the prom were about to begin.

"Thanks about what you said earlier." Sophia said with gratitude.

"It wasn't meant to be a compliment. It's the facts." Albel replied smirking.

As Sophia was about to retort, a blonde Klausian shouted, "I love you, Fayt."

Cliff whooped, Nel elbowed him in the ribs, Maria clapped, Roger and Peppita cheered. Fayt had the most priceless look on his face as Mirage finished it off with a kiss. Sophia burst into giggles.

It looked like Mirage had kept her end of the bet. She was astonished she even bothered to do it. It was just a silly dare from the mall, after all. Sophia wouldn't have had the guts to confess her affections for Albel. On the other hand, comparing Albel and Fayt was out of proportion. Besides, it's not like he liked her back…

"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the fifteen annual Peterney High Prom! I hope you all have enjoyed your night so far. To finish up this event, let the prom king and queen competition commence." Principal Blair announced.

Couples stepped up to the dance floor and began to do their best. After a few rounds, the remaining pairs were: Fayt and Maria, Albel and Sophia. Cliff and Nel were disqualified because the former repeatedly stepped on the latter's foot. Roger tripped over Peppita's many scarves. And Maria refused to dance with Leiber.

"C'mon Fayt, hang in there. We're almost winning." Mirage encouraged, attempting to keep Fayt in rhythm.

"At this rate, we'll beat them in no time. Right, Albel?" Sophia said spiritedly. Albel smirked in response, spinning her then dipping her.

Sophia was having the time of her life. At first, Albel refused to do something as pointless as a dance competition. Then Fayt and Mirage came along, boasting about how they could defeat anyone, anytime, anywhere (mostly for Sophia's benefit.) Suddenly, Albel's ego kicked in and he practically dragged Sophia to the dance floor—much to her surprise. He mumbled something about settling a score with the two.

"And the winners are none other than… (da, da, dum!) Albel Nox and Sophia Esteed!" Blair broadcasted over the microphone. Everyone gave a round of applause including the semi-finalists, Fayt and Mirage.

After the clapping died down, Albel and Sophia returned to the fountain where Sophia resided before. Sophia was chattering animatedly about the excitement she had that night. Albel simply nodded now and then—not noticing the small smile appearing unconsciously. Sophia adjusted the sash and tiara she had received and turned to speak to Albel. She fingered the crown that Albel won in her hands. He claimed the ridiculous thing would mess up his hair.

"Albel, I—mph" Sophia unexpected felt his lips come in contact with hers in a quick, chaste kiss.

Sophia felt heat rush to her face. As she was about to question his motives, Albel placed a finger on her lips.

"There was no other way to make you shut up." Albel interrupted swiftly, unaware of the blush on his own cheeks.

Sophia smiled under his touch. "You could've just told me so."

Albel smirked. "I could've… but I like this way better." He kissed her again. This time it was more passionate.

Sophia didn't get to tell him how she felt or if he felt the same way. Yet, actions speak louder than words.

And Albel discovered that being between a rock and a hard place wasn't entirely bad after all.

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Thanks for reading and reviewing.

— Shizuka