Dedicated to Logan, as always. Happy New Year!
She was positively beautiful. He hadn't been able to tear his eyes away from her for more than a few collective minutes the entire night. Her easy smile as she laughed with Caitlyn over something Tess had said in the recording studio, the way her hair was perfectly pinned up in that messy bun with flyaway curls hanging down… She was a vision in silver—she looked like a firework herself. He had to tell her. He had to just go over there and tell her how beautiful she looked. If he could just move his feet—
"NATE!" Jason cried, announcing his presence by pounding Nate on the back suddenly, causing him to jump about a foot in the air. While his brother laughed, Nate put on his fiercest glare.
"Really, Jase? You couldn't just say 'hi'?" he said. Jason laughed again and Nate resisted the urge to sigh and rub his suddenly pounding temples. Whether the headache was his body's conditioned reaction to Jason's presence or simply the aftermath of an adrenaline rush, he'd never know. "What do you want?"
Jason wrapped an arm around Nate's shoulders and pointed at the girls he'd just been making googly eyes at. "I want to know when you're going to stop staring at Ella like she's that Les Paul you wanted when we were kids and actually, y'know, talk to her."
"First of all," Nate said, shrugging off his brother's arm. "You were the one who made eyes at the Les Paul every time we passed the guitar store. And secondly, I wasn't staring. I was… watching."
"Dude, you were staring. Don't even try to deny it."
The arrival of a new voice on the scene startled Nate again. He turned to find that Caitlyn had left Ella (presumably upon seeing Jason) and had come to stand directly behind him. He frowned. "What would you know about it, Caitlyn?"
"Um, I was in the general direction of your stare? And were I Ella, I would find it massively creepy," she said nonchalantly. Nate flushed as she tilted her head thoughtfully. "Actually, I wasn't the subject of your love-eyes and I still found it massively creepy."
Jason looked as if he was holding in chuckles—or maybe a bad bout of gas had snuck up on him, Nate couldn't really tell the difference. He rolled his eyes at Caitlyn and made to move away, but she hooked an arm under his and managed to keep him in place. Those damn self-defense classes had improved her grip immensely.
"Oh, come on, Nate," Caitlyn said. "I'm only teasing you. Ella doesn't even notice you exist."
"I—what?" Nate looked at Jason, but he still looked like he was trying to hold in gas. He turned his eyes back on Caitlyn. "You can't be serious."
She shrugged. "I calls 'em like I sees 'em." When Nate rolled his eyes, she pressed on, "No, but I'm really being serious, Nate. Hell, she talks to Jason more than she talks to you."
Jason's eyes bulged out. Nate guessed that it was becoming harder for him to handle himself. He looked down at his girlfriend with a pained expression. "Caity, I—"
"Jason, you know it's true," she said, cutting him off with a sharp look. She turned back to Nate. "Look, I know how you feel about her… but I think maybe you should start considering other options. It's pretty clear she's got her eyes set on someone else."
Nate blinked. It felt like someone had wrapped a string around his stomach and pulled violently downward, taking his heart and a couple other organs for a ride. He almost glanced downward to make sure they weren't falling to the floor with a wet slap. Caitlyn either hadn't noticed his sudden silence, or she was choosing to ignore it.
"I mean… you've seen how much time she spends with Shane, right? And the way she smiles at him…"
He shook his head, as though it would make her words fly back out of his ears, and put his hands in the air to stop her. "Okay, Caitlyn, that's enough. You have to be lying. She wouldn't… Shane's in a relationship! With Mitchie! Ella wouldn't… They're best friends—"
"She was really good friends with Dana during camp," Caitlyn said matter-of-factly. "Didn't stop her having a huge mega-crush on you."
"OKAY, CAITY!" Jason said suddenly, grabbing her around the waist. "You and I are going outside to watch the fireworks!"
Caitlyn glared at him. "Jason, it's eleven-thirty, the fireworks don't—"
"Outside. Now," he said firmly, giving her a rare glare. She immediately quailed and followed him out the door.
Nate stared after them and tried very hard not to feel like his life was in pieces on the floor.
"So I think the next Doctor will be played by Billy Bob Thornton," Shane said.
Ella snapped out of the daze she'd been in while watching Nate and Caitlyn's conversation and turned her eyes on Shane. Her brow furrowed. "Billy Bob Thornton as the next Doctor? Where in the world did you hear that?"
"From ella-should-just-talk-to-nate-dot-staring-at-him-all-night-is-bordering-on-stalkerish-dot-com," he told her. She rolled her eyes and smacked him on the shoulder while he just laughed. "Seriously, Ells, what is your deal? You've never been this shy about a guy you liked before." He tugged on one of the curls that had fallen out of her bun and smirked when she slapped his hand away playfully. "If I remember correctly, you were the one who finally cornered Stubby at one of our release parties and asked him if he was going to ask you out or just gawk at you every time you passed."
"Yeah, well… Stubby is Stubby," Ella said, flushing as she remembered. "I wanted something fun and flingy and he was cute and thought I was cute and I thought, 'Hey! Why not?'"
Shane nodded sagely and stroked his chin for good measure. He dodged Ella's well-aimed elbow and continued his schtick. "And with Nate?"
Ella forgot about trying to abuse Shane for a moment and turned her eyes back to Nate, who was standing alone again and had his broody face on. "You know how it is with Nate, Shane." She sighed and brushed hair out of her face, continuing to watch Nate.
"You know, all of your problems would be solved if you'd just talk to him," Shane said softly. "Remember the wonders it worked for Caity and Jason?"
"Don't let you hear her calling you Caity," Ella said.
He waved a hand dismissively. "That's not the point and you know it. You've been pining over him since we were at camp—and don't you deny it. Ever since he complimented you on your sparkly shirt, you've had stars in your eyes. Nate-shaped stars. And hearts. Nate-shaped hearts."
Ella sighed. "I wish I could just talk to him, Shane, but… it's not that simple."
"What's not that simple?"
She whirled around at the familiar voice and froze when she saw that Nate had come to stand with them.
"Nate! Hi!" she exclaimed. She winced inwardly at the sound of her voice. It was dangerously high. Nate raised an eyebrow and she continued in a more normal sounding voice, "I was just telling Shane that—"
"She has something important that she wants to tell you," Shane said. Ella's eyes bugged out and she whipped her head around to give Shane the fiercest glare imaginable. He glared right back with equal intensity before clearing his throat. "I've got to go find my girlfriend. The countdown is starting soon."
Ella watched helplessly as he left her standing alone with Nate. Abandoned—that's what she was. Abandoned. Nate cleared his throat next to her and she jumped, realizing that he was watching her. She turned and gave him a nervous smile.
"Shane said you wanted to tell me something?" he said.
She blushed. "I really wish he wouldn't have said that," she muttered, looking at the floor. Her eyes darted back up to Nate's after a moment, though, and she bit her lip before saying, "I saw you being all broody after Jason and Caitlyn went outside."
To her surprise, Nate flushed as well. He ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah, Caitlyn was being… Caitlyn."
"I'm not surprised!" Ella said, laughing brightly. "She was guzzling the champagne tonight. A word of advice: don't trust anything she says when she's drunk. Last time was before she and Jason got together and she basically told him that any feelings she had for him were gone after he dated Stella Yamada. She said it was like a middle aged man creeping on a twenty-two year old."
"But… he was twenty and she was seventeen. Not a huge age gap. I mean, enough for people to pause, but…" Nate said. His brow furrowed in that way that made Ella want to hug him.
She patted his arm instead. "We all know that, but for some reason, Caitlyn thought telling him the exact opposite of what he needed to hear would make him come running to her."
"God, Caitlyn's mind is twisted," Nate said. He laughed a little bit and ran a hand over his face. He gave Ella an odd look and smirked a little. "So you don't have a crush on Shane, then?"
Ella gaped at him. "What? NO! Did Caitlyn tell you that?" A look of fury came on her face. "I'm going to kill her. I'm going to murder her and you are going to help me hide the body."
"Whoa, Ells, calm down!" Nate said. He grabbed her hand when she began moving away to look for her friend. "I mean, I don't even know if there are any rock quarries nearby."
She tugged him along with her as she tried to get to the doors to outside on the other end of the room. He had to dig in his feet to keep her from moving him along. "I don't care about a quarry," she growled. "I'll find somewhere. It'll be dark and remote and only the squirrels will find her bones. And… and… they'll poop on them. That's what'll happen."
"You know, Jason's normally pretty harmless, but I don't think he'd be too keen on someone trying to kill Caitlyn," Nate said, pulling on her arm. She stopped resisting as the truth of that struck her in the rational part of her brain. Her mouth formed a tiny little 'o' and for a second Nate was almost too distracted to continue. "And why does Caitlyn lying about you and Shane suddenly make you murderous, anyway?"
She blinked as that filtered in as well and then, to his astonishment, flushed crimson. "I... I've got to go!" She tried to dart away, but he still had a pretty strong grip on her hand and she yelped as she was rubber-banded back at him.
"Come on, Ells," he said. "I won't make fun of you if it's embarrassing."
She blushed even harder and mumbled something he couldn't hear over the suddenly swelling noise of the crowd they were in. It was nearly midnight, he realized.
"Just tell me, Ella." He reached out and grabbed her other hand so he could hold them both between them. "You know you can trust me."
She closed her eyes tight and scrunched up her face and for a moment looked like she was trying to hold in the gas that had been afflicting Jason earlier and that was when the idea struck him.
He leaned in close and whispered in her ear. "I'm going to tell you my biggest, most personal secret, okay?" A curl fluttered from his breath so close to her face and she nodded, just barely. He smiled and opened his mouth.
"I'm in love with you," he breathed. Ella went totally rigid and he pulled back slowly. He couldn't help the small amount of hope that rose in him, but knew as soon as he saw her face that it was pointless. The blank shock told him all he needed to know. He turned to leave her.
Her hand on his arm stopped him and before he knew quite what had happened, his arms were full of Ella Pador, looking like a firework and kissing him like one, too.
Happy New Year!