After the last chapter, everything I wrote felt very anti-climatic. I thought about leaving it there, but things felt a little unfinished, so I give you this, a light-hearted ending.
Now, onto serious business. You-yes you who's reading this-whether you've been reading, just started reading and/or reviewed, I thank you infinitely. Your support means the world and I write for you guys because you provide constant motivation. It feels so great to get feedback from so many talented people. You're all amazing! And a special thanks to my lovely beta-buddy Alasyn :)
While a dim part of my mind was wondering if I was doing this right—after all, it was my first kiss—the dominant part was reveling in the feeling. If I were any judge, Derek was a great kisser. His lips were soft and each kiss thorough, leaving me wanting more. Reaching my hands up into his hair—which was surprisingly soft—I ran my fingers through it, gently tugging for better leverage. In response, he lightly bit my lower lip, tugging at it softly and causing me to gasp. Taking advantage, he slipped his tongue into my mouth and astoundingly, I did not internally combust from the fire that seemed to be scorching my entire being. However, to my dismay, oxygen became a necessity and I pulled away, breathing heavily. I didn't get far though for his arms tightened around me and he drew me back into him, bending down so our foreheads touched, resting against each other's.
All I could see were his emerald green orbs staring straight at me, almost it seemed, right into me. He looked alive and wondrous and—and content, something I hadn't even glimpsed at in so long that I felt myself surge with happiness.
My arms had slipped to his neck and his were wrapped around me, resting firmly on my lower back. We were so close that I could feel his heartbeat, which seemed to be identically rapid to mine. His eyes closed momentarily but I couldn't do the same. I was caught up in him, caught up in what had just happened. As much as Derek may think that we'd never work, I could tell that he wanted this—us—as much as I did by the way he kissed me, all together tender and hungry.
Pulling back all the while keeping his hold on me strong, he opened his eyes and his mouth and—
"Oh God, my eyes are burning," exclaimed someone, sounding pained. Looking towards the porch, I saw Tori standing there, back bent and an arm thrown over her eyes melodramatically. As if it weren't enough, Simon came waltzing out next and said, "How odd. We haven't even tied you to the stake yet."
"Hi, Chloe," he said, turning his attention my way and grinning wickedly, ignoring Tori, who practically had steam coming out of her ears.
While I turned several shades of red, Derek groaned and he closed his eyes once again, this time wearing a pained expression. Then, focusing on me, he said quietly, "You may want to go home. Once my dad sees—"
"Derek," someone else called—his dad, I presumed—sounding relieved and walking out onto the porch, joining Tori and Simon.
"Where have you been? Simon said that—oh," he finished, startled as he finally realized that Derek wasn't alone.
"You must be Chloe," he said, smiling
He was like an older version of Simon. While his hair was dark, though beginning to silver, and he was a couple of inches taller, there wasn't a doubt that they were father and son. They shared identical warm grins and had the same lean builds and spiked hair, though Mr. Bae's seemed more tamed. I was, however, surprised that he knew who I was, though I suspected Simon had something to with it.
I was about to take a step forward when Derek—who was now standing beside me with an arm around my waist—tightened his grip, preventing me from doing so. The porch light barely reached us and we were almost bathed in darkness, making it hard for anyone to properly make us out. My mind suddenly put two and two together, justifying Derek's odd behavior, his seeming tenseness and his reluctance to let me approach his family.
If I continued on, Derek would have no choice but to follow me, and he didn't exactly look like a million bucks. Was he worried about what his dad would think? Did he not want me here for the inevitable interrogation? Whatever the reason, Derek couldn't stay outside forever.
I was about to quietly point this out to him when Mr. Bae, wearing a quizzical expression, asked, "Derek?"
He could tell something was wrong; there was a tightness around his eyes that hadn't been there before and his voice sounded hesitant, as if he were afraid of what could possibly be the matter.
Sighing, Derek looked down at me once more, and apparently able to read his mind, his dad said, "I think it would be wise if Chloe came in."
Hand on my lower back, intermittently running his thumb soothingly up and down, Derek and I walked towards them. As soon as we were within the light of the porch, they're expressions changed. Tori's air of interest and any residual indignation at Simon's comment fell away as did Simon's look of restlessness and Mr. Bae's anxiety, all replaced by blanched looks of shock as they registered Derek and I standing, damaged, before them.
Recovering quickly and almost completely masking his surprise and pushing away his anxiety, Mr. Bae stepped aside and motioned to the front door, beckoning us in. He waited for us all to trudge in before following, closing the door firmly behind him.
I had no time to properly look around for we headed straight for the kitchen, which was at the back of the house and absolutely gorgeous. It was perfectly contemporary with stainless steel appliances, a big, wooden island that also seemed to serve as their dinning table, and white cabinetry. Everything—as had what I had been able to glimpse at—was orderly and clean; however, unlike my house, which shared the same qualities, there was something definably homey about it. It felt lived-in and comfortable, like a safe haven.
While we all took seats around the island—Derek having pulled mine out—Mr. Bae walked around to the opposite side and stood facing us.
"Before hearing your explanations," he said, pointedly looking at Derek and I, "I'd first like to say that it's nice to meet you, Chloe and I apologize that we seem to be meeting under less than ideal circumstances." He offered a sympathetic, good-natured smile and I couldn't help but return it—another thing he seemed to share with Simon.
"It's nice to meet you too, Mr. Bae."
"Please, call me Kit," he looked at me and waited for my reluctant nod before continuing, "And just so I have my facts straight, you're the girl Derek's been tutoring in math, correct?"
At this, Tori snorted derisively, interrupting my answer. "He's been doing more than just math, dad. What else was there? Chemistry? The interactions between two separate pieces of matter?" Her eyes were dancing with amusement and narrowed wickedly. Simon's lips were twitching uncontrollably while Mr. Bae—Kit—was torn between humor and discomfort. As for Derek and I, he sat glowering beside me while I gave the red apples residing on the countertop a run for their money.
Clearing his throat, Kit asked, once again looking between Derek and me, "Who would like to start?"
Derek shifted slightly, settling in closer to me. While we were not touching, he was close enough that I felt the heat of his body emanating onto mine, that his newly acquired tension seemed almost palpable. Opening his mouth, he began.
"And that's it. We went to Chloe's house afterwards, cleaned up and she was just dropping me off when you all came outside," Derek finished, having not only recounted the events of tonight, but also our previous encounters with Liam. The only thing he had left out was the state he had found me in, pinned under Liam. Kit already seemed conflicted by the fact that we didn't—I didn't—want to take any further action and I think Derek was attempting to control the situation. If Kit did know, it'd be pretty safe to say that there would be no chance he'd let Liam walk away with only Derek's threat to keep in mind. It's not that I don't believe in taking a stand and justice being served. I just had a feeling that Derek's warning would keep him in line, and because nothing had happened, I didn't want to cause unnecessary worry.
During the retelling, Derek had shifted almost unconsciously closer to me, our knees now touching and our arms skimming as we waited for Kit, Tori and Simon to process everything.
There were lines of consternation etched into Kit's forehead and his brow was furrowed in worry, discord visible in his eyes—should he leave things be or should he push for something more severe to be done? Simon was a bit paler than usual and Tori had assumed a carefully composed mask, void of any distinguishable emotion. However, they were all angry. It danced in the depths of Kit's eyes; was at the surface of Simon's; and it could be detected in the way Tori was holding herself stiffly, hands intertwined together so tightly her knuckles had long ago turned white.
"That sociopathic asshole," Tori whispered fiercely, taking us all off guard. Her preserve had slipped away and her eyes were now blazing in fury.
Kit seemed to snap back into the present at her words, no longer lost in his thoughts. Firmly, he said, "While I don't know if I agree with you, Chloe, I can understand why you don't want to cause a riot. However," he said with emphasis, "if anything, and I mean anything even remotely threatening or uncomfortable, happens again—"
"It won't," Derek said strongly, interrupting him.
"You may not always be there," Kit reasoned, picking up on what Derek meant.
He fell silent, looking anxious, as his father continued, "As I was saying, if there are any other disturbances, you can't keep quiet, Chloe. He needs to be put in his place."
I nodded understandingly and we fell silent once again. Kit sighed and ran his hands over his face, looking tired and puncturing the quiet.
"I think it'd be best if you went home and got some rest now, Chloe. Despite the circumstances, it was nice to meet you and I hope to see more of you," Kit said, managing to share a knowing smile with Derek and I.
Surely blushing, I offered my goodbyes, Simon shooting me a miraculously good-natured smile and Tori gracing me with a nod and solid eye contact.
Derek walked me to the front door silently, leading me out onto the front porch and closing the door behind him while I made my way to the railing. We obviously had to talk about what had transpired, about what would happen with 'us,' but I didn't know if now would be the ideal time to do so.
Suddenly, I felt his hand on my waist, fingers resting on my sides lightly, tentatively. Without hesitation, I leaned back, relaxing against him, and his arms encircled me as he bent down to burry his face in the crook of my neck.
I don't know how long we stood like that, silently communicating what we could not say out loud in fear of disturbing the fleeting peace we had created. Too soon though, he pulled away, leaving me feeling exposed.
Turning around to face him, he said, "My dad wants to talk me. Go home and sleep. I-We'll talk later," recovering after a slight hesitation.
"Ok," I said quietly and our eyes locked for a few interminable moments before I turned away, towards my car, and drove off with him still watching me.
Sighing, I rolled out of bed and tiredly trudged to the bathroom to brush my teeth. My night had been restless, punctuated by tossing and turning and bouts of refusal to sleep, fighting to keep my eyes open as I listened intently—and anxiously—to every creak a house makes, afraid it was something, or rather someone, else.
Leaving Derek, the night's events had finally caught up to me and I had a whole night alone to let them settle in. Finally, at around six in the morning, I had fallen into an exhausted slumber and now, four hours later, I looked pale and deathly, to my delight.
Grabbing my school sweater from my bedpost, I walked lazily down the stairs, stopping in the kitchen to put some coffee on, before continuing to the front door to retrieve the paper. If anything, reviews of last night's releases would settle my nerves.
Opening the door, I stopped in my tracks and almost did a double take.
Sitting on the stairs with his back turned to me and his forearms resting on his knees, was Derek. Hearing my intake of surprised breath, he whipped around to look at me and quickly stood up.
Pushing away the hitch in my heartbeat, I said cautiously, "Hi."
We regarded each other for a few moments and I noticed that he looked as tired as I felt and even a bit worse, the cuts on his eyebrow and lip already heeling but the bruise on his cheek having angrily darkened over night. There was something in his manner that seemed anxious, restless, as if he had something to say and wanted to say it as soon as he could.
"How long have you been out here," I wondered aloud.
"What time is it?"
Taken aback, I was about to ask him what was so important when he interrupted me, saying gruffly, "We need to talk."
I don't know whether it was because that was the classic line or whether it was because I'm a girl and the reaction to those words seems almost instinctual, but my heart started back up again, rejection sweeping through me.
"About?" Trying to delay it was futile, but try I did.
He pushed his hair out of his eyes and proceeded to shove his hands into his pockets. Then, he said quietly, "I don't know what yesterday means."
He was so serious and seemed so intent that I managed to contain the giggle that threatened to escape my lips, brought on by relief and the ability to see the irony. Derek was one of the smartest people I knew, and yet he was still confused about something I couldn't have communicated any more clearly.
Tried as I did, I still cracked, and smirking, said, "I thought I made things pretty clear."
He blew out a frustrated breath. "Chloe, yesterday was pretty intense. I didn't know how you were feeling because we never got a chance to talk about it. But I can imagine. I didn't—still don't—know if what happened happened because you were scared or wanted to forget about what happened or—"
"Derek, I kissed you because I wanted to, have wanted to," I added on quietly, trying to control my blush. "Not because of any other reason your mind may be able to come up with," I said sharply, voice unwavering.
Pushing away a wide-eyed expression, he fought on, saying, "I still don't know what you want."
Incredulous, I replied, "I don't know what else I can say, what else I can do, Derek. I want you," I tried not to wince at how clichéd it was and went on a bit more stridently, "This isn't about what I want. I know what I want and you know what I want. This is about you and about what you want, what you're going to decided to do." Once the words left my mouth, I realized how true they were. I wasn't uncertain about what I wanted at this point—hell, it was standing right in front of me. To my dismay, it was still Derek I was waiting for, to be decisive and determine whether he truly wanted to cut me from the string he had me on or whether he was ready to pull me in.
His eyes, which had strayed from mine in guilt, snapped back to me, blazing. But I was accustomed to him and continued, another thing coming to mind.
"Actually, I want something else, too. I want you to give us a chance, Derek. You're giving up before you've even considered the possibility of us working. And that's not who you are. If you think you're the only one who has something to-to be scared of, you're wrong. This isn't about doing things right. I don't care how right or how wrong things go. What I care about is actually having had the courage to try at all. So this is it, Derek. What do you want?"
I waited, watching him wage an internal battle, for what though, I couldn't say. I wanted him to take that chance, to pick me, but after so long and so many mixed signals and cataclysms, I would settle for the truth, whatever it may be.
Without any warning, he took a step towards me, bringing one arm around my waist as his other hand came up to cradle my face.
He ran his thumb lightly across my lower lip, a whisper of a touch that left me breathless and caused me to shiver. While I waited, feeling like I was teetering on the edge of a knife, his eyes drank me in, though frequently returning to my lips. He brought the hand that was framing my face around to the back of my head, intertwining his fingers in my hair. Then, without hesitance and with an assuredness that hadn't been there last night, he set his lips firmly on mine, conveying everything he couldn't seem to articulate into this kiss, that lapped seamlessly into another.
He ran his tongue gently across my bottom lip, effectively rendering me at his mercy. I snaked my arms around his neck, trying in vain to pull myself closer. The hand in my hair dropped, skimming down my back and meeting his other hand, holding me in place. 'You,' he seemed to be saying, 'you're what I want and I'm sure of it.'
Tried as hard as I did not to, I had to break away, gasping for breath. He compensated by placing his face in the crook of my neck, intermittently planting soft kisses on me.
Pulling away, I said with admirable control over my breathing, "Derek, I don't know what this means." While my tone was serious, I was teasing and he knew it.
He smirked—a smirk, it seemed, reserved for me—and said, "You think you're funny don't you?"
"Uh-huh," I said grinning.
He rolled his eyes, lips twitching, before pulling me towards him once again, effectively stopping any other jokes from leaving my now preoccupied mouth.
I was sitting on the floor, my Mac propped open on the coffee table, working on the final edits of the script, when Aunt Lauren walked into the living room and took a seat on the couch across from me.
"Hun, can we talk?"
I closed my computer and looked up at her, waiting.
Giving her lip one last chew, she said, "I know break just started and you were busy last week with all your tests so we haven't spent that much time together, but I can't help but think that it also has something to do with-with Derek. You haven't been yourself ever since we've had that conversation about him."
I had yet to tell her Derek and I were dating; I was still enjoying the beginnings of relationship bliss. We had been together almost every day, making up for lost time, but to my aunt, he had been Amber or Mila or both.
My days with Derek were somewhat indescribable. While we knew each other's personalities and the heavier parts of the other's past, we seemed to have skipped past the lighter side of things, and so we were doing that. We spent hours on end talking about everything and anything, nothing was out of bounds. While he still didn't talk about the accident, I knew he would in time. And that was the best thing, knowing that we had time, seemingly at points, like all the time in the world. God help me—we had only been a couple for five days, if that—but I couldn't help but feel that Derek and I would last, or at least, were bound to go far. The connection was undeniable and there was something indescribably homey about him, making me feel comfortable and protected—always.
Focusing on Aunt Lauren, I said frankly, "I didn't feel like you had the right to judge him, especially as harshly as you were."
She flinched slightly, but stood by her original perception, saying, "I understand, Chloe, I do. But the facts are the facts and I only want what's best for you."
"Do you remember when I always used to get made fun of because of my stutter," I asked suddenly, hoping that I could make her see reason.
"Of course," she said, sounding almost offended that I had thought she hadn't.
"Well whenever I came home upset, you always used to say that unfortunately, those kids didn't know better. That they were being closed-minded and if they didn't take the time to get to know me, to look past the surface, they weren't worth my time at all."
I looked at her pointedly and understanding alighted her features.
She looked down, slightly ashamed, but looked back at me after a moment, the fight still there, but significantly less resolute.
"I don't know if it's the same thing, Chloe," she said quietly, a final attempt at arguing her point.
"It is," I said definitively.
She looked hesitant, and I continued, "I-I like Derek." I waited for the mind that had gotten her through med school to process what I meant and went on, ignoring her wide, slightly panic-stricken eyes, "I know what happened, but more importantly, I know him. He doesn't deserve the cards he's been dealt and he deals with them as best as he can. He shouldn't be judged for something he had no control over, something he never would have chosen to do."
I looked at her hard and I could see my reason waging a war against her beliefs. While she still looked fairly adamant, she did nod, almost imperceptibly, before getting up and leaving the room, pausing only to bend down and kiss my forehead on the way.
Opening my locker, I couldn't help but curse myself for completely destroying any semblance of a proper sleeping schedule over the break. Though I looked well rested, I was anything but, and was currently running on three hours of sleep. Looking blearily at my books, I was even too sleepy to jump when I heard an unexpected voice beside me.
"Hey, Chloe, how was your break," asked a smiling Nate, standing beside me.
Amber had told me during a conversation via phone a couple of days after the dance that things would definitely not work out between her and Nate. She said she had been caught up in the moment and regretted it, for more than one reason. She had said that on top of being kind of clingy—a no-no for free-spirited Amber-he still wasn't over me. When I had tried to object, she vehemently insisted, saying that after I had left, he started wallowing.
Looking over at him, I knew I had to tread carefully.
"Good, how about yours?"
"Pretty good. So, what were you up to," he asked casually.
"I spent time with Derek, so that was great," I said smiling.
His friendly look darkened and I had to bite down on my lip to keep a straight face. If only Derek were here, I thought.
"I didn't think you were that bad at math," he said laughing, apparently trying to justify the time I spent with Derek as anything but the obvious.
I had expected more from Nate, less pettiness I suppose, but at the same time, he was a sixteen-year-old boy who had just been shot down a second time, so I tried to be understanding, the key word being 'tried.'
Just as I was opening my mouth to attempt a good-natured retort—a contradiction, I know—I felt strong arms wrap around me from behind. Derek's scent—woodsy, warm, all-boy and inviting—washed over me and I smiled up at him, even though he wasn't looking at me.
Nate's grin seemed to be frozen in place, though Derek's stare seemed to make it waver. Without another word, he walked away having shot a final glance my way.
As he disappeared into the crowd, I could feel Derek relax behind me, and laughing, I turned around to face him.
"I really don't like that kid."
"I never would have guessed," I deadpanned.
"That was a terrible example of sarcasm."
"Funny, and I thought I was the one with the higher English mark," I said teasingly.
He narrowed his eyes and pulled on my ponytail.
"Aren't you witty."
Rising onto my toes, I pulled him down by his shirtfront and gave him a quick kiss—not entirely comfortable with big public displays of affection—before murmuring, "You have nothing to worry about."
His lips twitched and he put him arm around me, tucking me into his side and walking towards our class.
"Hi, by the way," I said realizing I hadn't gotten the chance to greet him.
He smirked my smirk and began casually playing with my hair.
"I like your hair like this."
"Really? Thanks," I said, surprised. I had severe bed head this morning and needed a quick fix.
While I found that Derek could joke and had a dry sense of humor, he still remained on the serious side of things and staying true to this, he nodded and said softly, almost to himself, "It showcases those beautiful eyes."
Thinking about his own eyes, I almost scoffed. But he meant it and I walked into class undoubtedly glowing.
I anxiously waited for Mr. Williams to get to my desk, heart beating rapidly and feeling rather restless. Although oddly placed—it was March—this test counted for forty percent of our mark. My grade would either make or break or me. I had felt confident after walking out of the test and Derek had been sure that I was ready. I thought it was pretty easy, but now I was paranoid, convinced I had completely misinterpreted everything and was about to receive a confirmation of my failing grade, my ineptness, thoroughly shaming both Derek and I.
He stopped in front of my desk and slid my test towards me face down, just as he had so many months ago, first bringing me to Derek.
He waited and I knew he wouldn't leave until I looked. Taking a deep breath, and flipped the paper over and…. My jaw dropped.
Williams broke out in a sunny smile, saying everything with that gesture, and thankfully continued on, leaving me in peace to pinch myself and then tightly close my eyes before slowly reopening them. I hadn't been seeing things; my mind wasn't playing idealistic tricks on me.
A 97. A 97.
I whipped out my calculator and calculated my current average including this miracle—something else Derek had taught me to do. An 85.
I felt light-hearted and inspired with hope—I felt like I could do anything. I also felt like it was finally time to mention Photoshop5 to my dad.
The bell rang and I practically skipped out of class, stopping in my tracks when I saw Derek leaning against the wall opposite me. He looked nervous, but when he registered my expression, he must have known it was good news for his lips, which had previously been downturned in worry, transformed into a smirk.
As I walked towards him, he asked, sounding rather smug, "How'd you do?"
Standing in front of him, the rush of students faded into the background, no longer existing in my world.
"Perfect," I said, taking a moment to admire his smile before pulling him down to me just as his arms had wrapped around me and began pulling me up, reminding me that we weren't so far off from being so for each other either—perfect, that is.
Comments, critiques, suggestions requests, questions? You know what to do. Click that attractive looking button-R&R :) Once again, thank you all for everything.