Tell Me the Truth
"There he is! Quick Serena, move over and make room!" Rei demanded, scooting over herself on the curved red vinyl of the corner booth and waving her hand madly in the air to get the attention of her quarry.
"Rei, what are you doing?" Serena whispered nervously, watching with heavy dread as her normally sophisticated raven-haired friend did everything but stand on her head in order to draw attention to herself. The other occupants of the arcade were staring at them and Serena wanted to duck under the table in embarrassment.
The object of Rei's frantic motions turned his head to look in their direction, and knowing he couldn't ignore her, picked up his coffee and muffin and headed over to where she was seated. Involuntarily his eyes darted to the blond seated next to her and he straightened up a little taller, trying to convey a disinterest he didn't necessarily feel.
He approached the table, determined to be cool. "Rei." He nodded to her politely. He turned his head to the smaller girl next to her. "Meatball head." He acknowledged, then returned his attention back to Rei. "How are you?"
Ignoring Serena's hiss of anger, Rei beamed up at her handsome crush. "Great Darien, how are you?" She inquired, ready to be impressed by whatever his answer would be.
"Good, thanks." He gave a small smile, Rei really was very sweet, pretty and smart to boot. Too bad his mind was already preoccupied with another girl to the exclusion of all else. But he was determined to ignore her; she was trouble with a capital T. Too young, too immature, too argumentative, and too…. he broke off his thoughts. Once again he was obsessing about Serena, even as he was trying to convince himself he wasn't interested.
"Well…" He began turning away "See you later." He said, again addressing only Rei.
But Rei wasn't about to give up so easily. "Wait!" She stalled; disappointed that he was leaving already. "Why don't you sit with us?" She invited, patting the open seat to her left.
Darien knew it was a bad idea. Rei's feelings were obvious, and he had no intention of encouraging her. Besides, he could never seem to stay cool in the presence of Serena. "Thanks but I think…" He began to speak only to be interrupted.
"Please?" She begged loudly. "Please Darien!" She repeated, then flushed when those around her craned their necks to stare rudely. Bowing her in shame, she realized she had gone too far. There was no way he would want to sit with her now.
But tenderhearted Serena couldn't bear to see her friend's misery. "Come on Jerk face." She said in a coercing tone, glancing from her friend's dejected form up to his uncertain features. "It's not going to kill you to sit with us. Although my appetite might suffer because of it."
Darien's eyes meet Serena's and he nodded once, indicating he understood. For once they were of one accord.
"Yeah right meatball-head." Darien scoffed as he took a seat next to Rei, placing his things on the table before him. "I've never known your appetite to suffer one bit over anything." He gave a friendly grin, one that Serena returned gratefully.
Rei glanced up, awed that he had joined them to eat, and perked up instantly, becoming animated and lively.
Seeing Rei light up reminded Serena of the biggest reason she tried to avoid and when necessary annoy the too handsome Darien Chiba. Her friend really liked him, and the one thing Serena could never do was to hurt a friend. Even if she happened to like that guy for herself. Good thing he wasn't interested in her, she thought with an unhappy sigh.
Upon remembering that she wasn't supposed to get along with her 'arch enemy', she shot him a dirty glance, which caused his easy grin to disappear. "The only time my appetite does suffer is when I'm forced to be in the presence of certain know-it-all types who think the world revolves around them." She said nastily, wishing the pretense wasn't necessary.
"Serena!" Rei admonished her, quickly turning to face Darien and say, "She didn't mean that!" She fidgeted nervously with her food, afraid that Darien would get up and leave.
"A 'know-it-all'?" Darien scorned in a condescending tone, hurt making him retaliate. "Really meatball-head, your vocabulary is very limited." He then proceeded to tune her out before she could reply, instead turning his considerable charm on Rei in a deliberate effort to make Serena feel invisible.
Serena swallowed a lump in her throat in agitation. Once again he managed to put her in her place, then make her feel like a deformed third wheel while he chatted up her friend. Never mind that it was what she wanted, him being nice to Rei. It was just that it hurt to see him so attentive to another woman, when she really wanted him for herself. But she knew that Darien didn't think very highly of her, and she tried her best to convince herself that she didn't like him much either.
Rei was thrilled to have the focus of the gorgeous, intelligent and clever Darien Chiba on her. She couldn't help but notice though, that every once in awhile his eyes would stray over to Serena, lingering for a moment before he would bring himself back to her. He never spoke to Serena and tended to look away if she happened to catch him looking. Jealousy welled up in Rei, making her petty towards one of her very best friends.
"Serena, fix your hair, its all over the place!" Rei said in disgust, executing the classic move of putting down the other person in order to make yourself look better. She turned to look at Darien to share a look of 'isn't she hopeless' with him, only to see him glance away as though he didn't approve. Rei's cheeks reddened.
"Oh, thanks Rei." Serena mumbled, blushing a pretty pink as she put down her fork and reached up to fix her out of control hair. Unfortunately for Rei, this backfired big time in the 'make Serena look bad' department.
Serena reached up, pulling down first one pig-tailed bun, then the other, wrapping the elastic bands around her wrist and combing her fingers through the soft blond stands as they curtained down her back and draped over her shoulders. She played with her hair a moment longer, alternatively fluffing and smoothing it down while she decided to leave it instead of trying to get put it back up in her customary hairstyle. She accidentally glanced across the table at Darien and stilled her movements at the look on his face.
Darien sat motionless, completely mesmerized. If he had thought the little angel was beautiful before, he was at a loss for words now. He was enraptured with the sight of her, with her peaches and cream complexion, her big innocent blue eyes, and now with her glorious hair framing her face she was more alluring than any woman had a right to be. Child, he reminded himself sternly, gritting his teeth. She was a child, why couldn't he seem to remember that, he asked himself angrily.
Serena's hands fell into her lap, unsure of how to react to his intense gaze. "What?" She finally said nervously, her voice sharp.
Darien glanced over at Rei to see if she had noticed. Of course she had. He looked down at his plate and cleared his throat. "Nothing." He said, then as if he couldn't help himself he added. "You just look different with your hair down, that's all."
"Oh." Serena said, at a loss for words, her eyes trained on the table in front of her. She desperately wanted to ask him if it was a 'good' different or a 'bad' different, but was afraid that if she did, she might not like the answer.
Not one to give up easily, Rei rallied and decided to try again at distracting Darien's attention from Serena. "I think she looks even younger than her 14 years, don't you?" Rei inquired, trying to subtly remind Darien that he was too old for her. "Sure glad I'm past that stage! Actually I'll be 16 soon!"
"Rei…" Looking over at her, Serena didn't know why she felt compelled to correct her friend, but she did. "I'm 15 now, remember?" She glanced from Rei to Darien, and was caught off guard when his eyes met hers head on. He had stopped even pretending to eat now, his attention focused on her, and on the strange undercurrents covered up by this mundane conversation.
"Wow, 15." Darien said in a mocking tone. But his heart and mind raced…she was getting closer to being legal…
"Well, excuse me for not being 19!" Serena huffed, feeling silly for even mentioning it now.
"I wasn't aware you knew how old I was Buns." Darien spoke softly. His eyebrow winged up. Was his age important to her? Did it bother her? Did she think he was too old? Questions crowded on his tongue but he swallowed them, determined not to let her or anyone else know his true feelings.
Serena mellowed at the use of the nickname Buns. It wasn't nearly as offensive as Meatball-head and actually she kind of liked it. "You would be surprised at what I know." She said, but with a smile.
Darien wondered what she was trying to imply but couldn't ignore that charming smile, and his mouth quirked up in response.
"Things like what?" Darien asked softly, curiously. He wondered if she meant things she knew about him personally, or in general. Did she think about him? Ask about him? Or was she referring to all those failed tests he liked to harass her about?
"Like the fact that…" With an air of mischief, Serena started to reply, to tease him just a little when Rei abruptly interrupted her.
"Hey, did you know that I'm 15 and a half? Before long, I'll be driving!" Rei was getting desperate now, and knew she was being rude. But the two were flirting right in front of her, and the worst part was she had a feeling they weren't even aware of it! "Hey Darien, I've got an idea! Will you teach me how to drive when the time comes?"
"I don't think so Rei." Darien said firmly, a little ticked that she had interrupted Serena. "I think that's something your parents ought to do."
"Yeah but they never have the time." Rei whined, mentally cringing. She almost sounded like Serena on a bad day. "Besides, I'll bet you're a great teacher. " She gave him a simpering look, one that she had been practicing in the mirror for some time. "I'll bet you're good at everything." She finished huskily, hoping he would pick up the hint.
"Sorry Rei," He shook his head. She was starting to get irritating, sounding like so many other women he knew. The kind that gave him empty compliments, who fawned all over him no matter what he said, who didn't know when to take no for an answer.
"But…" She began, just knowing that if she could convince him, they could spend time together and he would fall hard for her. Rei was getting desperate.
"I said NO!" Darien almost shouted, fed up. He stood, grabbing the remainder of his half eaten muffin and empty Styrofoam coffee cup and walked to the door, throwing his things in the trash before leaving. He glanced back at the table to see Rei's back as she hunched over the table, and instead meet Serena's steady gaze. There was no look of judgment on her face and he was momentarily relieved. Then he growled at his own stupidity of even caring what she thought and with a fierce look on his face he left. The bell rang loudly in his wake, echoing agitatedly as though reverberating with his anger.
Serena turned in her seat, from watching his angry exit back to the forlorn figure of her friend. Rei's elbows were propped up on the table, her head in her hands. Serena couldn't see Rei's face but a tear dropped on the red formica table and she immediately felt her friend's despair.
"Oh Rei" She said, rubbing her friends back soothingly. "Don't worry, he doesn't stay mad for long. " Serena gave an encouraging smile, though her friend didn't look up. "I should know, after all. We're always getting mad at one another but he doesn't ever carry a grudge or anything."
Rei sniffed, then raised her head to face her friend. "This is all your fault." She said in low miserable tones.
Serena stared, certain she had misunderstood. "Um…what?"
"I said 'it's your fault!' which part didn't you understand you dumb blond?" Rei asked furiously.
"But…" She ignored the stab of hurt for the moment, pausing to think over what had happened. She couldn't see anything she had done. "What did I do?" She asked carefully, not wanting to upset Rei further but she was genuinely confused.
"Every time he's around, you just have to be the center of attention, always trying to monopolize him!" Rei knew she was being unreasonable, but her thoughts were chaotic and there was a grain of truth in there somewhere that she had to get out. "Oh, I'm sorry is that word to big for you? Monopolize? It means you act stupid and childish in front of him so he doesn't notice anyone else but you!"
"But Rei…" She began only to be cut off.
"How could you? I thought you were my friend!" Rei interrupted heatedly, scooting to the edge of the seat and standing up. Glaring down at Serena one last time, she turned and stomped to the door. She paused to look around the arcade at all the gawkers and said, "What are you all looking at? Mind your own business!" before turning to storm out the door going in the opposite direction of Darien.
'Well, at least she's starting to sound more like herself instead of that 'super nice' person she was trying to be for Darien.' Serena thought, trying to be objective. But her normally buoyant sense of humor quickly deserted her, and she felt depressed. One of her closest friends was very angry with her and probably for a good reason.
'Rei's right', she realized. 'I'm not that smart, I don't even know what I did wrong'…she felt her eyes tear up. 'Plus Darien was talking to me more than to Rei, maybe I was trying to be the center of attention…' Serena was confused, she knew she had feelings for Darien and maybe she had been unconsciously acting on them without being aware of it.
Serena felt the weight of heavy emotions bearing down on her. She felt ready to cry when from behind she heard the sound of a baby wailing. Turning in her seat, she saw a harassed mother trying to shush her very upset little one. The woman tried offering him a pacifier, then some food but the baby refused, crying even louder.
Looking around the room, she saw several others turning to give the woman a dirty look but no one offered to help. Forgetting her own misery for a moment, Serena got up and went over to where they were seated.
Seeing a new face, the baby stopped crying and looked up at her with interest, waiting to see what Serena would do. She had to act fast or the baby would remember why he was crying in the first place and resume his rant. Reaching over to the jar of baby food in front of the surprised mother, she picked it up, along with the spoon and began playing the 'airplane' feeding game. The child was delighted and giggled, opening his mouth obligingly every time the food came into the 'hanger.'
"Thank you so much." Gushed the grateful mother after a few moments of this. "I'm afraid it's been a long day and I was loosing my patience with him and he could tell." She shook her head. "You reminded me that I need to just lighten up! Thank you for making my baby laugh!" Taking the spoon and food back from Serena, the woman picked up where she had left off, a genuine smile on her face, both mother and child enjoying themselves and Serena knew it was time to go.
As Serena left the arcade/restaurant, she thought over what had happened, knowing there was a lesson to be learned in there somewhere. Mulling it over, she realized that only when she had taken action had the problem been resolved. Sitting around getting angry or feeling sorry for yourself didn't help, you had to get up and do something about it!
Nodding to herself, she decided that maybe she wasn't the smartest person she knew, but she was no dummy either, and she did have the ability to make her friends happy. 'OK,' she thought to herself, 'time to go see Darien and straighten things out between him and Rei!' She ignored the twinge of pain the thought caused. 'And then,' She concluded ominously, 'Rei and I are going to talk!' Enough was enough; friends didn't talk to each other the way Rei had talked to her.
Now that she had a clear head, undistracted by so many thoughts, Serena realized it had gotten chilly outside and picked up the pace. Heading in the direction of Darien's apartment, she hoped he had gone home otherwise she would have a tougher time finding him.
Picking up the pace, she ran in small bursts of energy, trying to outdistance the cold, her breath a white cloud in the gray November air. Arriving at his apartment complex only a few blocks down the street from Andrew's arcade, she ducked into the warmth of the buildings foyer. Shivering from the warm air that now chased away the cold, she studied the names listed next to the elevator. Finding his name, she hopped in the elevator car and rode to the top, wondering what she would say, and suddenly becoming aware of the fact that she was getting very nervous.
Walking down the hallway, she finally found the apartment number she was looking for. Serena stood in front of it, trying to gather the courage to knock on the door and get this over with. She raised her hand to the door, then lowered it quickly.
Remembering she had a small hand brush in her pocket, she whipped it out, running it through her long hair, wincing as the quick strokes jerked the hair at her scalp before it began to smooth out. Pocketing that, she tugged out some cherry lip-gloss and squeezed a small amount onto her lips before rubbing them together and slipping it back into her pocket. Ok, now she was ready!
Heart pounding in anticipation, she raised her hand again to knock, but instead gave a startled yelp when it opened from the inside. Serena found herself looking into the very eyes of the person she had come here to discuss and behind her the surprised figure of Darien. "Rei?" She said in disbelief.
Out of nowhere dread pooled in Serena's belly and she felt heartsick. Once she wasn't there to cause trouble, Rei had been able to get what she had been after all along: Darien. The knowledge should have made her happy but instead she felt devastated.
Turning away without a word Serena began to trudge back to the elevators. She should have said something encouraging or congratulatory to her friend for finally getting the man of her dreams, but she found she could not do it. Serena couldn't believe how heartbroken she felt, she just wanted to go home and cry till the pain subsided. She heard the murmur of conversation behind her; Darien's low angry tones and Rei's pleading voice, but she ignored them, stuffing her hands in her pink coat pocket, head bent in abject misery.
"Serena, wait." Rei said, stepping out of the apartment after asking Darien to wait at the door. She needed to talk to her friend alone for a moment.
When she saw that Serena had no intention of stopping, Rei sped up, jogging a little till she caught up with her. She tugged at Serena's arm but when that didn't stop her, she jogged ahead again, this time stopping in front of her, blocking her path so that she couldn't be ignored.
Serena stopped, and finally had no choice but to look up. Rei felt terrible all at once when she saw the tears streaming down her friends face. She couldn't do anything but throw her arms around Serena and hug her friend tight, feeling her own eyes start to well up again.
"Congratulations Rei." Serena said, trying not to choke on the words. She reached up her arms and hugged back, trying to be supportive in the face of her tremendous loss.
"Stupid blond." Rei said, but this time the words held no sting. "Always thinking of everyone else. Even before yourself" She sighed, not sure where to start. "Serena… I…I'm sorry."
Serena was unsure what Rei was apologizing for; there was so much going through her mind at the moment. But no one ever had to ask her for forgiveness twice. "It's ok Rei, I'm just glad that you're happy."
Rei gave a disbelieving laugh. "Do I look happy to you?" She asked, pulling back so the two could see each other more clearly now.
Serena was puzzled, and looked up at Rei's face, only now noticing the red-rimmed eyes. "Rei?" She spoke slowly…then as she began to get ideas, she got angry. "Did he hurt you?" She demanded.
"No, no, nothing like that." Rei said with a heavy sigh. "At least not in the way you mean." She shook her head in self-derision. "More like I set myself up to be hurt. And I also hurt a very good friend. I've been a real jerk to you and I'm so sorry I insulted you."
"I…I don't get it…" Serena confessed, brows knit in confusion. "Aren't you and Darien…?" She couldn't bring herself to even say the words. She was a terrible person.
Glancing back down the short hallway, Rei eyed the watchful figure of Darien, propped against the door jam of his apartment and wished things could have been different. But it was time for a reality check. Darien wasn't interested in her, he was crazy about Serena and if Rei couldn't be happy with him, then at least one of her most favorite people in the world would be.
"No, we're not together." Rei finally answered. "It's seems he has his sights set on someone else." She said the last part loudly, as though to needle the man in question.
"That's enough Rei." Was all he said from his post, though his eyes never wavered and he continued to stand patiently, watching both women intently.
Serena turned to look at Darien also, trying to understand what was happening. Darien leaned against the doorframe, arms crossed, eyes steady, gaze unblinking. He was impossible to read, she thought with a swallow.
"Serena." Rei spoke, pulling Serena's attention back to her. "I think the two of you should talk."
"There's nothing to…" She began, but Rei cut her off.
"Listen girl, I know why you've been pretending not to be interested in him and I'm sorry I took advantage of it but I'm over that now." Rei said, speaking openly for once. "Or at least I will be in a few days." She gave a smile, small but sincere. "Go get 'em Blondie." Rei said, with one last hug, before turning to leave. The elevator arrived quickly and she jumped on, the door closing behind her, stranding Serena in the hall alone with Darien.
Standing motionless, Serena wondered what exactly had just happened. And what did Rei mean by 'go get 'em'? There was nothing to go get! Turning back in the direction of Darien's apartment, Serena swiped at her cheeks with the sleeve of her jacket. She gave a tremulous smile. "Well, that was not what I was expecting." She offered, waiting to see what Darien would say.
He didn't say a word, either having nothing to say or expecting her to say something more.
"Well, I guess I'll go now, bet you have had enough girls crying for one day!" She said with forced cheerfulness.
"Serena, we need to talk." He said, straightening and unfolding his arms. He gestured into his apartment. "Come on in."
"Oh, but we don't…" She said nervously, desperately wanting to escape. What could they possibly have to discuss? The business with Rei was over, and as far as Darien knew it had nothing to do with Serena or her feelings. She stepped back to turn and go when he came out of his apartment and began to approach her with sure, long legged strides.
Serena couldn't move, she stood rooted to the spot, her hands twisting in agitation and her neck bending back a little more the closer he got. He was so much taller than she!
"Um, Darien, really I don think…" She began, only to stutter to a halt when he reached her.
"You really believe we don't have anything to discuss?" He asked huskily, reaching up a hand to stroke her damp cheek before gently caressing his way down to her chin.
"I…" She blinked, breathing shakily. Looking up into those intense eyes, it was hard to think.
"Then you're a liar." He said softly, before leaning in to bestow an intoxicating kiss on her waiting lips.
Immediately they both simultaneously closed their eyes, mouths opening for a second, more demanding kiss.
Drawing in a deep breath, Darien exhaled it on a sexy groan at the sensations coursing through him. It was so much better than he could have ever imagined, kissing Serena. Why in the hell had he waited so long?
Meanwhile, the normally sweet and demure Serena was greedily reaching up to grab onto his shirt, determined to pull him down closer to her for more kisses. His body heat was scorching, the scent of his aftershave teasing her senses, his hands driving her wild.
The click of a doorknob turning should have alerted the two that they were no longer alone, but both were so drugged on one another, they didn't hear anything until a noise loudly interrupted.
"Kindly keep that kind of thing behind closed doors!" Harrumphed the voice an old man.
Pulling back, Darien straightened to see the familiar figure of his grumpy neighbor down the hall. "Sorry about that Mr. Jones." He said, although he didn't look or sound as though he was. Saying nothing more, he took Serena's hand and began to lead her in the direction of his apartment. But the bitter old man had one more comment to make.
"Bit young for you, isn't she?" He asked snidely, before turning to face the elevator and ignore them completely.
Serena gasped, looking up in time to see Darien's features tighten in anger, then turning back to give the old man a nasty look. When he glared back at her she couldn't resist sticking her tongue out at him. The man raised his fist to say something but Serena was jerked into Darien's apartment and the door shut solidly behind her.
"I don't care if that was childish of me" Serena began, looking up into Darien's stoic features. "He deserved it! It's none of his…"
She was cut off by his rudely uttered "Shut up." Before he backed her against the door, once again closing in, his lips drawn to hers as though magnetized.
Stripping off her jacket with urgent movements he then braced one hand on the door above her head, winding his other arm around her lower back, forcing her to arch up to meet him. Serena was standing on her tiptoes, reaching up her arms to loop around his neck, her short pink nails mussing his hair as she raked through the silky softness.
Darien knew things were going fast, but couldn't seem to force himself to slow down. Every time he deepened the kiss, caressed a little more daringly or moaned in arousal she matched him move for move. He was intoxicated with her, and couldn't seem to control himself.
When she boldly tried to mimic him by slipping her tongue into his mouth, he pulled back abruptly, shocked. He didn't break their positions, just the contact of their mouths. Serena, frustrated with his withdrawal, rained kisses on his neck trying to entice him back to her mouth.
"Someone's been teaching you how to kiss." He accused, breathing hard. He knew he had no right to be jealous; after all she wasn't his first kiss either. But now, he almost wished he had waited. A first kiss like this would have been one worth waiting for.
"No." Serena shook her head distractedly, trying to tug his head back down. "You're my first."
For a moment, Darien forgot to breath. "What?" He asked in shock.
Serena stopped, finally realizing he was no longer in the moment and perhaps had lost interest in kissing her. Embarrassed, her hands slipped from his neck and she clasped them in front of her then released them and clasped them behind her, leaning back against the wall as Darien removed his arm from behind her. But he didn't move away, still leaning over her, studying her face intently.
But she couldn't look him in the eye, not if he was regretting what they had done.
"Serena, are you telling me that I am…this is…was your first kiss?" He asked disbelievingly.
Looking down at the ground so mumbled, "So what if it was?" She felt defensive…had she been that awful? He hadn't seemed to mind a moment ago…
"Unbelievable." He breathed, feeling a light headed elation. Closing his eyes, he tried to pin down his thoughts. How had this happened? Why did it seem as if it was meant to be that he was her first? Why did it feel like the most important thing he had ever done?
"Sorry if that wasn't as good as you're used to." She said flatly, still addressing the floor.
Darien's gaze darted back to Serena's down bent head, finally realizing that while his mind was reeling with the wonder of it all, she was misinterpreting his reaction as disappointment.
"Serena." He tried to get her to look at him but she refused. "Serena it's not what you think." He said, suddenly wanting very badly to see those beautiful blue eyes of hers.
She shook her head no, too embarrassed now to face him.
Reaching his free hand up, he tried to lift her chin but she stubbornly refused to budge. Instead of releasing her, his fingers skimmed down the side of her neck. He gave a small chuckle when she squirmed, but still she kept her eyes down.
As though his hand had a mind of its own, it's continued to trace the top of her shoulder, then he began to follow the delicate line of her arm. Stopping at her elbow, he slid his palm over to the curve of her waist. The top of his hand just brushed the underside of her breast. If he were to spread his fingers wide….he could tell from the way she was beginning to breath faster that she was thinking the same thing too. Things were getting out of hand. Again.
"Baby look at me." He said finally, and this time she did, her eyes searching his to see if he meant the endearment.
Reaching back up, moving his hands out of the danger zone, he played with a strand of her hair. It was so long and soft, and he could smell the faint aroma of scented shampoo.
"Darien?" She questioned softly, knowing he would understand what she was asking.
He was silent a moment before he began speaking. "You're just so beautiful." He said, hesitating before adding, "I just can't believe you would give your first kiss to a guy like me." One so undeserving, his words implied, though he didn't say it out loud. 'Someone who's too old for you', was what he was thinking.
"A guy like you?" She teased, able to relax a little now that she knew he wasn't disappointed with her, but instead in awe. It was amazing because it seemed he felt the same way about her as she felt about him. That neither was good enough for the other, though members of the opposite sex often pursued the both of them. Neither seemed to be aware of their own self worth. Love did things like that to you, she realized with sudden insight.
"You mean someone who's good looking, funny in a sarcastic way, super smart, and a great kisser?" She asked, and was amazed to see him turn his head to avoid her gaze, as though he were embarrassed.
She grinning, enjoying herself. "Not to mention the fact that older guys are hot!" She laughed a little, not noticing Darien's slight frown at the reminder. "I bet all my friends will be…"
"Serena." He stopped her, his voice serious. Their eyes met and she saw immediately that something was wrong.
"What is it?" She asked worriedly.
He gave a heavy sigh that sounded like it was from the heart. "Baby I'm too old for you." He confessed, sharing his deepest concern with her.
"Darien, you're not!" She protested in shock, seeing from the look on his face he was adamant about this. "If this is because of that old guy…" She began, but he shook his head no.
"Serena, you're fifteen, I'm nineteen! If we were in our twenties that wouldn't matter. But right now we're in two very different places. Do you understand?" He asked gently.
"You mean because you might want to have sex and I might not want be ready?" She asked candidly.
He felt his cheeks flush heatedly. They had shared a few intense kisses but he couldn't even begin thinking of being together intimately, or at least, he shouldn't be. Neither should she be, he thought.
"Not exactly." He hedged. "More like, what would your friends and family say if they knew you were with an mature guy? Your reputation would always be suspect. And what about dating? I can't take you to college parties, and I have no intention of going to high school dances and being the oldest guy there."
She regarded him with direct blue eyes, as though studying him for a moment before speaking. "Why don't you try telling me what is really bothering you?" She asked calmly, not believing his explanation for a moment.
"I just told you…" Darien began insistently, but Serena wasn't buying it. She slipped under his upraised arm still propped on the wall and headed further into the living room. Looking around, she spotted the cream leather sofa and headed over, surprised when her feet sunk into the plush carpeting. Sliding her shoes off and tossing them back into the foyer, she padded further into the room looking around.
Darien turned and stood at the edge of the room, leaning against the hallway wall, watching Serena move about the apartment. He was overwhelmed at her beauty and the fact that she was actually here with him in his home.
She wandered over to a grouping of framed family photos. She didn't need to ask if these were his deceased parents, the young boy who so resembled the man behind her was very evident in the youthful features. She picked up a wedding photo of his parents and studied the smiling faces for a moment. 'Don't worry' She whispered to them, 'I wont let him be alone anymore.'
Putting the photo down, she turned to look at Darien, his arms crossed, his face serious.
"Serena, I'm only saying what everyone would be…" He stopped talking when she turned on her heel and headed unerringly for the kitchen. "A-D-D much?" he muttered, but quickly shut his mouth at her dirty look.
"When you're ready to tell me the real reason, then we'll talk." She informed him primly before disappearing into the kitchen, the door swinging closed behind her.
Exasperated, he listened as she rummaged through his kitchen cabinets. A few moments later he heard the sound of his freezer opening as she studied the contents, then slamming it shut with a muted 'sorry'. Then the opening of his refrigerator door and the clink of glass and crinkle of tin foil as she examined the contents of his casserole dishes and read the labels from his wine bottles.
"Serena" He called to her, willing her to come back to him.
"Want anything to drink?" She hollered politely.
She was making herself at home, the little brat! He growled to himself, remembering that there were times when she had genuinely driven him crazy.
"No!" He shouted back. "Get back in here now!"
A moment later the door swung back open to emit Serena, carrying bottled water. Bypassing him she wandered over to the sofa, picking up the warm wool throw and gathering it around her small form before sitting down onto the cold leather.
She looked ridiculous and adorable, he thought to himself with a smile he was unable to hold back. She really did look beautiful with her hair down, and he opened his mouth to tell her so when she spoke.
"Darien, if you don't tell me the real reason why we cant be together then I have no choice but to ignore your silly objections." She told him matter of fatly.
Moving over to sit by her side, he lowered himself onto the couch. "It's not silly." He told her quietly.
"Tell me the truth." She urged, reaching out a hand to squeeze his arm.
Darien was silent, wondering why she had such a strong affect on him. Leaning forward, he rested his elbows on his knees, staring sightlessly at his hands linked together in front of him. "Serena, I'm nineteen. That means I'm mature, more settled, and know my mind pretty well. I don't think I could bear it if you suddenly changed your mind after a year or so together, and decided you didn't want to be with me anymore. That you'd outgrown me or that I was just phase you were going through!" His voice gained strength as he spoke, getting more agitated as he went on.
"Oh Darien." She murmured lovingly, knowing he was truly upset but that his fears were groundless. She stood, the warm throw slipping off her shoulders and dropping her water bottle on the seat next to her.
For a moment Darien couldn't breathe as he watched her rise. 'She's walking away from me.' He thought bleakly, wishing he had kept his mouth shut. Maybe he was being silly, getting ahead of himself. Maybe he would have been the one to outgrow her-though he couldn't imagine that happening. Maybe just being together with her even if only for a short time would have been worth the heartache when she eventually left him.
Instead she moved to stand before him, reaching down and pulling apart his hands she moved in close between his knees and then rejoined his hands behind her. For once she was taller than he and he had to look up to meet her eyes. Still even with him seated and her standing, the distance between them was small, so she ducked her head to place a kiss on his forehead. Reaching up her hands, she soothed his brow, stroked his hair and comforted him.
"No one is going to keep us apart Darien." She whispered. "Not even you."
Emotion overwhelmed him and he convulsively hugged her already close form even tighter to him, his head pressed against her breastbone as her arms locked around his neck and shoulders. They held each other while Darien struggled to get his emotions under control. Here he had thought that because he was older he would be the one with all the answers. Yet despite her age, she was the one displaying a wisdom and capacity for love beyond her years.
He cleared his throat as tears welled up in his eyes, threatening to spill over. Determinedly he set his jaw, not wanting to show any weakness to her, but when one wet drop slipped over she felt the dampness on her shirt and she gently tugged at his hair so that he pulled back to meet her eyes.
She studied the beautiful navy color of his eyes, bejeweled by the tears and then leaned down to sweetly kiss first one then the other eyelid as they drifted closed in deference to the moment.
When a second tear tracked down, she gently flicked out the tip of her tongue to taste the saltiness. Now, despite the tender moment, Darien felt a flicker of awareness in his belly. Deciding things had gone far enough, he pulled back and she released him reluctantly.
Strangely, he didn't feel embarrassed over his tears. Leaning back, he tugged her to him, and she fell softly onto his lap, curling herself into him.
Looping his arms around her small form, he gave a heavy sigh. "All right, if we are going to do this, we're going to do it right." He grimaced uneasily. "I'll talk to your family first."
Now Serena swallowed nervously. "How about we just tell my mom for now and just leave my dad out of the loop?" She suggested tentatively.
"Why?" He countered sharply, "Does he have a problem with you dating older guys?" He demanded.
"No," She sighed worriedly. "He has a problem with me dating period."
"WHAT?" Darien yelped loudly.
A few weeks later Rei entered the Crown arcade, her head held high and attitude back in her step. She paused at the entrance, waiting for her pathetic excuse for a date to catch up. Chad had offhandedly offered to treat her to a meal as thanks for her helping him to rake up the leaves from the temple grounds. It had been a big job and too much for him to do on his own. Rei had not let on that her grandfather had ordered her to help him, better for Chad to think he was in her debt, she had decided.
Chad jogged up to her, much taller than she and stopped in front of her, puffing hard. "Sorry Rei," he said, "I checked, they don't have that CD in stock right now but I ordered it and it should be here in a few days." He grinned, proud of the fact that he had been able to cater to one of Rei's little whims. Sure she was difficult, but he liked that about her. If only he could get her to take him seriously, he thought with a sigh. But, he reminded himself brightly, he was working on it.
As the two headed inside, Rei's eyes were immediately drawn to the couple in the corner, and her stomach twisted involuntarily. It wasn't as strong a feeling as it might have been a few weeks ago, but it was still there nonetheless. It was a sign she was getting over him, she thought with a touch of melancholy. At least they looked happy.
Darien was seated at the counter on the stool closest to the corner so he could lean against the back wall. Even in casual repose he looked great and Rei couldn't help but admire his handsome good looks. Dressed in jeans and a long sleeved black Gap shirt that complimented his black hair, he seemed way too gorgeous to be sitting in a two-bit arcade, she thought to herself. But as she noted the wide grin and occasional laughs he emitted, she was reminded why he was hanging around here.
Serena was standing next to him, a large coffee cup cradled in her two small hands. She was wearing a gray skirt and cute dark gray boots that reached almost to her knees. The pink top she wore sported three quarter sleeves and a thin matching scarf to complete the outfit. She wore her hair down now, and it framed her face causing her to look older than her 15 years, instead of younger as Rei had teased Serena about before. Of course that had been the jealously talking.
Pretending an interest in the menu, Rei surreptitiously watched as Serena drank from the coffee cup, then felt herself smiling reluctantly at the face her blonde friend was making, and chuckled in response to Darien's gentle laughter. Leaning down, Darien traded the cup for a kiss. Then, as though unable to help himself he stole a second, then a third kiss from his petite girlfriend. He pulled back slightly, grinning as he studied Serena's prettily flushed face, then his eyes cut around the room to see if anyone had noticed. His eyes met Rei's over her menu, and he frowned slightly.
Straightening, he stood up, then bent to whisper a few words in Serena's ear. She looked up at him, wide-eyed and trusting, nodding in agreement to whatever he was saying. Darien then reached down, large hands around her curved waist to hoist her up onto the stool he had just been occupying. Rei could hear him say huskily "I'll be right back baby" before he turned in her direction.
Panicking, Rei ducked behind the menu. She really didn't want to have a heart to heart with Darien about their relationship or her feelings or anything. She was embarrassed about the way she had acted and just wanted to pretend everything was fine.
"Rei" Darien's warm voice addressed her, and she looked up to see him standing in front of her table. Setting the menu down with a sigh, she realized in exasperation that she was going to have to deal with him, she couldn't ignore him, he probably wouldn't go away until they talked.
"Darien! Hey man, how are ya?" Chad greeted him enthusiastically. Reaching out, he greeted him with a vigorous handshake. Darien returned it amiably, chatting with Chad for a few minutes. Rei had to admit, no matter how hot Darien was, he wasn't a snob, and felt even worse over her terrible behavior the past few weeks. She had acted high and haughty herself, thinking her looks would guarantee her a chance with Darien, and she had been rude to some of her friends who had tried to reason with her.
Finally Darien interrupted Chad's easy conversation with a request to speak to Rei alone for a moment. Chad frowned, slinging an arm proprietarily around Rei. "I dunno about that man." He said, almost apologetically but still determinedly. "She's been awful bummed lately, and I have a feeling you might have something to do with that."
Rei glanced over in surprise at Chad; she hadn't known he had realized she was depressed or that he had his suspicions as to why. Maybe he was a little smarter than she gave him credit for. But then, she blushed, realizing that he had told the one person whom she didn't want to know all about it. The idiot! She fumed.
"I know, and that's why I want to talk to her." Darien said firmly, determined to have a moment of her time.
"Rei?" Chad asked, waiting for her to make the decision. She hated how protected she felt at the moment. Stupid Chad, she thought, how could he be affecting her emotions at a time like this? But first, she needed to address the problem before her.
"It's fine you stupid Neanderthal! Go talk to Serena for a moment or something. I can take care of myself!" She said bossily. Still, she warmed at the look of support he threw her before sliding out of the seat. And at the look of warning he shot Darien before he crossed the room to where Serena sat.
Darien slid into the booth next to her, his attention distracted for a moment as he watched Chad entertain his girlfriend. He felt stirrings of jealously, and had to clamp down on the emotions. After all, this was Chad, he was a good guy and Darien counted him as a friend. But he decided to be quick about what he had to say and get back to Serena soon, just in case.
"Rei," Darien began, turning to face her, concern on his face. "How have you been?"
"I'm good." She lied, "You?"
"I'm serious Rei." He countered, "I want to know how you really are. I was worried about you, you know." He told her quietly.
She paused for a moment, not sure whether to be honest. As she deliberated, Darien spoke up.
"Look Rei, there's nothing to be embarrassed about." Somehow he seemed to know exactly what she was feeling and the right things to say. "Those things you said and did are perfectly normal for people to do when they're trying to impress someone they like." He covered her hand on the tabletop with his for a moment, squeezing it to show his support. "We've all been there, me included."
She nodded, stifling a sniffle. She could feel the emotions that she kept on a tight leash loosening a bit. "Thanks." She said softly.
"Besides, I'm incredibly flattered that you liked me in the first place. You're quiet a catch Rei, you're going to make some lucky guy very happy." He said sincerely.
But it wont be you, Rei thought before she could help herself. She looked up, and Serena's animated gestures caught her attention for a moment. She did look happy, Rei realized, the thought perking her up a little.
"So how is it going with you two anyways?" Rei asked, a morbid curiosity urging her on.
Darien hesitated before answering, torn between the knowledge that it would be rude to flaunt his relationship in front of Rei, and wanting to brag on his beautiful girlfriend. She was everything he had ever wanted in a woman, and some things he had never dreamed he would have. Best friend, loving and considerate, teasing minx and confidant, he had never known that love could be so many things. They spent every day together, any free time they had, each falling further under the others spell.
Darien's fears over their age difference had proved to be groundless. Serena had displayed a maturity that Darien had not thought the energetic beauty capable of, yet her childlike wonder and natural verve continued to amuse and delight him.
Seeing that Rei was expecting an answer, Darien hesitated before answering cautiously. "Well, things seem to be going well." He said, a tremendous understatement. "Of course her family and I are still adjusting to one another."
Rei gave a genuine laugh at this. Darien laughed as well and elaborated since it seemed to amuse her. "Her Dad practically met me at the front door with both barrels blazing. He threatened to have her sent to a convent before her mother intervened. Then her brother kicked me in the shins. Hard." He grimaced and absently reached down a hand to rub the bruise that still lingered several weeks later.
Rei laughed again. "Well it can't be too bad or you wouldn't still be seeing one another." She said practically.
"Yeah, her mom has been my greatest advocate. She's been wonderful." Darien had a warm place in his heart for Serena's mother, who had been on his side from the beginning. She unabashedly treated him like her long lost third child, quickly discovering and fixing his favorite food for him, gently offering sage advice and bragging on him for all to hear though it usually caused mild grumblings from Serena's father.
Once Serena's brother had learned the benefits of having Darien dating his sister, he had been quick to press his advantage. Boldly telling Darien that he needed to get in good with him if he intended to be part of the family, Darien had responded by giving the boy the occasional ride in his sleek black Mercedes, playing a few rounds of violent computer games and patiently listening to Shingo's rants about his obnoxious older sister and soothing ruffled feathers. The two were becoming fast friends.
Both Serena and Darien's friends had all been supportive of the relationship, with the exception of a few jealous murmurs. The biggest challenge had been Serena's father. He still openly complained about the relationship from time to time. But Darien began to see it was not an objection against himself personally so much as a doting fathers denial that his little girl was growing up.
And when Mr. Tsukino had learned that Serena would often take advise from Darien that she refused to take from him, he had begun 'passing on' little nuggets for Darien to mention to his girlfriend. She in turn would listen and follow the advice, her father taking the credit and Darien cementing his relationship with Mr. Tsukino, which made them all happy. Her father had also learned that Darien had a magical touch with investments and the two had spent many evenings discussing stocks and Darien giving him tips on the best places to invest. It also didn't hurt that Darien was planning a future in the medical field, her mother had told Darien laughingly.
"I really wanted to make sure you're ok with this." Darien said, reaching up to squeeze her shoulder reassuringly. "After all, none of this would have happened if it hadn't been for you."
Rei ducked her head in a rare show of modesty. "You guys would have gotten together eventually." She said, embarrassed.
"Rei, I never would have pursued her if it hadn't been for you and what you said in my apartment that day." He insisted. "You're a good friend. Both to Serena and to myself." He told her firmly.
"Does…does Serena know about that?" Rei asked, dreading the answer. Now that they were together they probably told each other everything.
"No, that's between us." He assured her, "though I don't know why you don't want the credit for it. You did a very selfless thing Rei."
Rei shook her head, knowing that wasn't true. Serena had always been a good friend to her, and more often than not Rei had not reciprocated, instead teasing and aggravating her dear friend. This had been her gift to Serena, a great sacrifice on her part, with no acknowledgement, no thanks. She wished she could be like that all the time, but knew her limitations.
Darien smiled at her, then glanced over at Serena and Chad, frowning when he saw the two sharing a plate of his French fries. It looked like an intimate picture and he didn't care for it at all. She wasn't to take food from any other man but him, damn it!
Distracted he turned to Rei and mumbled, "I'm glad we had this talk" then slid from the booth to approach the duo. Sidling up to Serena, he slid an arm low around her waist, breaking up the scene without either of the other parties being aware of what he was doing. He's good, Rei thought to herself with a smile. Darien slid onto the stool next to the Serena, the two leaning towards one another, snuggling, talking, laughing and just enjoying being in each other's company.
Chad ambled back over to her table and plopped himself into the booth with her. He studied her for a moment, taking his cue from her and picking up his menu to peruse the selection.
"Everything ok?" He asked casually, his eyes focused on the sandwich selection.
Rei glanced up at the couple involuntarily, felt her heart glow at the sight. With real warmth in her voice she replied, "Everything's fine."
And it was the truth.
A/N-And just what did Rei say to Darien in his apartment? I'll leave that to your imagination…