The Apartment By Emilie Trig

*Dedicated to Raven for understanding what I was going through. =)

Song: Painter Song by Norah Jones

Chapter 8 The sun's rays seeped through the shades as I fastened the last button to my work uniform. It was yet another day. I gave a restless sigh as I stared at my own reflection in the mirror. I frowned at the plain sight of myself, and seeing a wrinkle in my uniform, I straightened it out. Darien Corrigan, I thought, breathing in his name. He must have been the only thing on my mind for the last few days and I couldn't even find it in myself to stop all this nonsense I was thinking.

His smell, his touch, his smile, his eyes, his tears, I just couldn't get it out of my system. And it irritated me. His name must have come up a million times in my head already. It was as if it was imprinted in my mind and I can't seem to rub it off. He had cried, I thought and could feel myself slowly overcome by his sadness. I understood his pain because a while back Ken dumped me.

My eyes turned blank and I found myself staring desolately at nothing in particular. Breaking up with someone you love is hard. The pain is always grave and almost impossible to heal. And I somehow managed to get through it, I thought silently in amazement. But I hadn't gotten through it by myself, I realized. I had help and most of it came from Darien. He was there to hold me when I was crying my eyes out and he was also there to cheer me up by taking me to the carnival. But besides this, he did the most important thing I will always remember, he cared. Darien cared about me. He didn't have to hold me, to hug me, to make me smile or laugh. No, there wasn't any contract agreement saying that he had to care about me, his apartment roommate. And the fact that he did make me smile, make me laugh, and all of the above only showed how great person he is.

But now that he was miserable, I thought suddenly, I wasn't even trying to help him. My shoulders drooped and I was disappointed at myself because I was going to leave him this morning to go to work. So call off, an idea whispered itself to me and I agreed on the thought. Darien had been there for me and now it was my turn to do the same. Do the right thing, I told myself. Whatever inner conflict I was having about Darien has to be put aside because it would be selfish of me not to.

I quickly dialed the number to Queenie's Hotel. Pete's wife picked up the phone and I felt a little downtrodden because I knew she would never agree to me taking the day off. I held my breath for a second and when enough guts surfaced, words began to form from my mouth. I excused myself, telling Pete's wife that I just couldn't go to work today because of personal business. And by some odd miracle, she excused me for the day.

By the time I had changed out of my uniform, I was still surprised by the phenomenon. Pete's wife, for the first time ever, agreed to something that I had asked for. Life's still full of surprises, I thought.

My fingers turned the knob to my door and I opened it, my face held a wonderful smile. The smile on my face, unfortunately, curled into a droop when across from the apartment, stood Darien. My heart gave an eager thump at the sight of him. God he looks beautiful, I thought without realizing it and slapped mentally at myself afterward. I didn't want myself to think this way.

Darien was standing at the frame of his doorway just as I was in front of mine.

I puckered my lip and tried to look natural. My mouth opened and I greeted him with a simple 'good morning'.

He nodded in answering; it was something he usually did. "You're not going to work today?" He asked, noticing I wasn't wearing my usual work uniform.

"No," I answered him and gave no explanation for my reason.

Darien gave a dumb nod and brushed aside his morning bangs.

We stood awkwardly still for a moment as if a barrier had come in between us.

"Serena," He said and caught my attention. Our eyes stared deep into each other and I was entranced, caught still once again by his mesmerizing gaze. I wonder if he felt the same, I thought suddenly but thought twice. Who was I kidding? "Thank you for the other day."

I bit down on bottom lip, knowing exactly what day he had meant. I was happy to be the person who comforted you, I wanted to tell him, but thought my words to be too gauche. "You're welcome," I replied softly. I coughed at the oncoming discomfort.

My mouth opened half way to say something, but a ring of the phone stopped me half way. I went over to pick up the receiver.

"Hello," I greeted, settling myself deep into the cushion of my couch.

The person on the other line kept mute.

"Who's this?" I interrogated. Darien watched me closely, still standing at the frame of his doorway.

I heard the person swallow hard and took a deep breath. "Serena, this is Ann."

"Ann?" I pronounced the name awkwardly, my eyebrows twitched. My eyes came to meet Darien's. His jaw was hardened and his eyes became dark as ever. I could clearly of that see in the clear daylight. My heart felt angry for him all the sudden.

"Yes, Serena, it's Ann. Is Darien there? I want to speak to him."

I puckered my lips together and found myself once again. "Darien?" I paused; my gaze came up to meet his again.

Darien walked over and in a quick movement, grabbed the phone. He was casual, very casual as if nothing had happened and when he answered, kept his voice firm and in control. "Ann, this is Darien," he began, his eyes darkening more than ever. I could see that he was hurt and was trying to hide his feelings at the same time. "We have nothing to say to each other. Don't call again." He stated harshly and disconnected the phone with a gentle, yet unkind cut off the line.

I found my eyes on the floor, suddenly feeling sorry for Ann. "Darien, did you let Ann explain it to you?"

He stared darkly for a moment. "There's nothing to explain. It's over," he deadpanned, his fingers in a tight fist.

I nodded my head as if I agreed with him, but in truth, I didn't. It was just that he didn't want to talk about it. I wasn't going to force Darien to do anything else.

"I want to take you somewhere today," I suggested bravely, breaking the silent tension of the moment. "Is that okay?" I prodded on timidly, wondering if he was okay with the whole idea. The last thing I wanted was to drag Darien anywhere without his own consent.

Darien was sullen for a moment, but agreed nonetheless. We ate our breakfast; and afterward, went across the street to the bait shop. And after we were done, we walked back to our apartment to retrieve two fishing rods that I had kept from so long ago. I insisted that we were to take my car because his was too new. Though it was a run down car, I was proud of it and besides, we were going fishing. My car certainly fit the description of fishing.

I drove us to the park. We treaded past the tennis court and deep down further to where the park's small lake stood. We settled ourselves under the vast tree that stood side by side with the lake.

"I haven't done this in a long time," I told him, throwing in my fishing hook in the water.

Darien stared out into the small lake, basking in its serenity. He certainly could not remember a time when he felt this much peace in himself. "I haven't either," Darien admitted. The last time he had been fishing had been so long ago. He had been a little boy then, in Britain, with his grandfather before the old man was held down onto the wheel chair.

He smiled sadly, realizing something important. He couldn't remember a time when his own old man took him fishing. Or anywhere for the matter, he thought.

His parents, they were always away on some business trip, never leaving any time for their own kids. And it was sad, he thought, because he'd never feel any different from the kids staying at the orphanage.

Darien sighed and his eyes found itself on Serena. He felt appreciative all the sudden, to his roommate...for caring. Almost no one cared about him, but she was one of the few. And though they hadn't known each other long enough, she hadn't held back her kindness, which only showed him how big a heart she had.

Sensing Darien's brooding stare, my head turned sideway until we were eye to eye. "Isn't this fun?" I asked.

Darien only smiled, his eyes shined brightly then and it made me wondered what it was for.

-------------------

Much later, we caught about a dozen fish. It could have been much more or much less, but I wasn't counting. It didn't matter how many fish because in the end, all of them will have to be let go. It was the park's number one rule.

The fish that we caught were swimming around the metal netted cage we left under water. By this time, both of us were ready to go home. Darien had captured the peace that I hoped he would get through this fishing ordeal. Now that it was accomplished, we no longer needed to be here.

I got up and stretched my aching body while my numb butt told it never wanted to sit down again. From the corner of my eye, I could see Darien slowly setting the colorful bait back into the box. I turned my eyes from him to where all the captured fishes were swimming and an idea slowly sparked. It was an idea that I haven't done since I was little and it sounded very intriguing at this moment.

"Have you ever stolen any fish?" I asked, in the spur of the moment.

"No, never in my life" he replied easily, and then his brows wrinkled in curiosity. "Why?"

I smiled wickedly at his answer. "Because we're about to now."

"What?" Darien asked as if he didn't quite hear what I had said the first time around.

"You heard me; we're going to take some fish home."

"But this sign here," he began, pointing at the warning sign in alarm. "Isn't this juvenile?"

I stopped his worry. "Where's your sense of adventure? You'll distract the caretaker," I said, my eyes looking straight at the park's caretaker. She sat busily working on the rose garden, but once in a while, I could see her watch the both of us from the corner of her eyes. I hopped over to the rock where we left the fishes. "Which one would you like?" I asked my voice casual as if stealing was no big deal. At least stealing fish to me seemed like no big deal, but to Darien, I knew was going to be something too big a deal. "We're only taking two home." I said.

Darien stared frantically for a moment and it was obvious that it really was his first time. He rushed by my side in a hurry and I had to smile while picking out the two fish that I wanted. "I don't think I'm up to something like this, Serena." He started in a great panic. "I've never done this before. I won't know what to do."

"Take it easy Darien. All you're doing is distracting the caretaker."

"Why can't you distract her?"

"This is your job and mine is to take the fish. I can't do both." I explained.

"Since when is this my job?"

"Since now. Just do it, will you?"

"Okay, okay. Is there anything on my face?"

I smiled and shook my head in disbelief. "You're such a dork, Darien. And no there's nothing on your face. Stop trying to stall. Just make go and don't let her pay any attention to me. Act casual," I directed him. "Show some acting skill."

He nodded then, letting out a deep breath. Darien began to march up to the caretaker and I had to wince at the ridiculously lame approach he was walking. "Not that casual!" I whispered and he quickly fixed his stance to the more usual and standard.

"I..ah..." I heard Darien begin awkwardly and I smiled at how smooth or should I say unsmooth he was. Darien was such a dork who couldn't flirt, but somehow the fact attracted instead of repelled me from him. I shook myself mentally for thinking of such thing. My heart had broken once and it took a while to mend it. I know that I didn't want it to crumble a second time and the only way to prevent that from happening was to stay away from Darien.

Then why are you here with him? I wondered to myself. It was a good question, but I also had a good answer. I was here because I was his friend and friends helped friends when in need, I tried to explain it to myself. My mind blanked a few second and I found myself staring more pensively at Darien while he stood awkwardly talking to the caretaker. His eyes roamed a few times toward me nervously and I found my lip slowly forming a small smile. I could suddenly recall his sweet scent and the secure feeling I felt when in his arms. Is this really the reason? I questioned. My brows wrinkled then, but I didn't dare to explore the question any further.

--------------------

Our laughter rang into the apartment as we opened the door.

"Did you see the look on the caretaker's face? She was in love with you. You two were such a cute couple."

Darien reddened in embarrassment. "God, don't remind me. I don't think I'll ever come back to the park again. She stuffed me her phone number," he said, retrieving the caretaker's phone number from his pocket. "I can't believe you put me through this."

"It wasn't that bad," I replied, "at least for me." I giggled and when done, cleared my throat. "Where do we put the fishes?"

He gave a light shrug. "Into a bucket for now. Until we can get a fish bowl."

We walked to the kitchen. He took a pot hanging from the side of the wall and placed it on the kitchen table. I poured our fish in and they swam freely around.

Darien smiled at me, his eyes in a tender gaze. And then, he lifted his eyes down toward the fish and I did the same. Our fish swam lively around the pot.

His eyes met mine and we smiled once more for the day, contented with each other's presence.

I melted, as if I was ice. Darien was captivating and at the moment held me captive to his gaze. There was an unusual feeling in my heart. My heart raced even faster and I knew I had fallen again, head over heels to Darien Corrigan. There was no way of falling out of this and at this very moment, I wasn't sure if I wanted to escape from this feeling.

Our trance was broken within seconds and I had to remind myself to keep in check. The last thing I wanted to do was catch myself in a drooling act. "I stink," I informed as I sniffed my shirt.

"Me too," Darien admitted and then, "I'm first in the shower."

"Hey! What happened to ladies first?"

Darien laughed, his face shined in delight. "I was just kidding with you. Go ahead. Ladies first, I still remember my manners."

My mouth stretched into a secretive smile and I treaded into the bathroom. The last thought, as I jumped in for a shower, was that he was the most handsome man on earth.

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After the shower, Darien and I both found ourselves waiting for the pizza delivery man to arrive. We talked about some things and nothing in particular. The doorbell rang half way into a small conversation we were having.

"I'll get it." I said and walked toward the door. I pulled the knob, and to my surprise, found Ann. My smile drooped a little, but I still managed to keep it up.

She gave a weak smile and then greeted me. Her eyes held nervousness. "Is Darien here, Serena? I want to talk to him."

I turned around to Darien and from looking at his face; I knew he was having an internal fight with himself. He was still in love with her and though his male pride wanted to push her away, I knew his heart did not. Putting away all thoughts and feelings for myself, I decided what I thought was best for him. "Yes, he is. Why don't you come in?" I suggested, taking a step out of the way.

Their eyes met slowly, and with such a deep passion that I could see clearly from where I was standing. It was clear to me they were the only two people in their own little world and I only served as an invisible person.

Feeling out of place, I excused myself quietly. I had no right to be in that room. My stiff feet treaded gently down the stairs and out of the apartment building. They loved each other, I thought with a hazy smile. Pieces of my heart began to drift away, in a very slow fashion, and eventually sank into a deep bottomless pit. It was the right thing to do, I reminded myself, but even as I told myself this, it somehow felt wrong.

My feet took me down the porch and my eyes roamed sadly to the apartment window. I knew what was going to happen, had guessed it the moment I left the two of them alone. They were going pick up things where it was dropped. I shook my head lightly at the thought. Don't think, Serena, I ordered myself before taking one last glance at the window as I departed.

The sky's mood was brilliant today I noticed as I stopped to admire its vast beauty from under tree's branches from overhead. The soft wind blew at me, gently caressing my face. It seemed to whisper into my ears, a sweet melody of something my heart desired very much but also something my mentality denied.

If I were a painter I would paint my reverie if that's the only way for you to be with me

I started walking again, my footsteps very slow, very lethargic.

We'd be there together Just like we used to be Underneath the swirling skies for all to see

I heard my heart whispered his name. It seemed to miss his presence. I continued my walk, not having the faintest idea where I was heading.

And I'm dreaming of a place Where I could see your face And I think my brush would take me there But only...

There was a forlorn awareness as I turned at the corner. Just this afternoon Darien and I were laughing together. How did I loose that laughter so fast? I wondered.

I walked onward, my head boggling with too many thoughts. I had completely fallen in love with Darien Corrigan; and now, I didn't have a clue to what I was going to do.

If I were a painter And could paint a memory I'd climb in side the swirling skies to be with you

The sky had completely darkened by the time I came home. I stopped outside to raise my head toward the apartment window and wondered if Ann and Darien had made up already. I saw them, both of them, their silhouette hung overhead by the window. They weren't arguing like I had hoped, instead, in a sweet embrace. My mouth stretched into a bitter, sardonic smile and I almost laughed bitterly to myself. My mind went into a slow hazy fog but I didn't run, didn't burst out in hysterics either. Instead, I chose to stay and stand right where I was.

My face hardened and there was a pain, one that hurt very much, but I was able to hold onto it.

--------------------

I came to work early for the first time in my life and to my surprise, I was fired. I received my last check from Pete. Good riddance, I thought as I drove home. Pete and his wife gave me this big lecture about what a messy job I've been doing lately. I sighed as I opened my apartment door. There goes my job, I thought upset now all of a sudden about not ever working at Queenie's Hotel again. After all these years of working at Queenie's hotel, I wasn't going to work there anymore. My job as a maid was over and surprisingly, I knew I was going to miss it a whole lot.

Once inside, I could hear Darien and Ann laughing. I sighed in desperation, feeling defeated. After the scene in the porch, I somehow managed to gather myself together. With a smile, I had congratulated them yesterday night. It was hard, I admit that, but I went through with it and was happy that was the last time I would congratulate them.

Putting on a fake smile and taking in an acute inhale, I walked further into the apartment. My eyes winced at the sight of them together. They were leaving soon, both of them, set straight for Britain. And I would soon have to say goodbye. A sense of loneliness fell over me and my face became stern. The closeness of their sitting place didn't help either.

Darien looked up from where he was, a little surprised, but still smiling bright as ever. "Serena, you're home. So early?" He remarked. His words were very careless that it upset me greatly. It was clear to me he wasn't even obvious of my certain bad mood.

"I was fired," I said staring straight at him, my eye very shady. I saw Darien's smile fade slowly and before I could spread anymore unpleasantness, I walked off. I left the two of them alone and trudged into the comfort of my room. Shutting the door quickly and quietly, I laid my head back against the door. My eyes were closed in regret.

Outside the door, I heard the two shuffled around. The apartment door opened and then it was shut. Someone had left.

There was a knock on my door, as I felt the thump at my back. It was Darien, no doubt.

"Are you feeling alright?" He asked, and I almost wanted to burst open. Of course I wasn't feeling alright, wasn't it obvious?

"No, I'm not." I answered him. I was upset, thoroughly upset at Darien for leaving and Queenie's hotel for firing me. "Go away. Go back to Ann." I conjured and could hear the jealousy in my own voice. It had been distinct, but I hoped Darien hadn't caught it. Ann had already left, I understood that, but it gave me satisfaction somehow just to say those words.

"Come out, Ann's gone." He said. I heard him take a few step back. "She had a doctor's appointment-something about a rash she's getting. Now come out."

My face rose toward the ceiling, my eyes staring at nothing in particular. "No," I said persistently. I didn't want face him right now for fear that my control loose break.

"Come out here," Darien said again, his voice very persuading. "I have something to show you."

I lifted my head from the door. "What is it?" I asked him from the inside, a tiny bit curious.

"It's something. I'm not going to tell unless you come out here."

I huffed and shook my thoughts around. "You can't tell me what..." I started to say, and then looked confusedly at the small piece of paper in his hand. "What's this?" I asked, befuddle.

"A plane ticket," Darien said with a smug of a smile on his face.

I looked at his face, confused. A plane ticket? That's what he wanted to show me? What for? I thought.

"This is for you." He said and raised it to my face. "Will you come with me to my home, Serena? I mean with Ann and I." My eyes widened in surprise and he continued. "I can't possibly deal with my grandfather alone."

"I.." I began; my voice was slurred, and I couldn't finish what I planned to say. Darien wanted me to go to Britain with them? Why? I wondered quizzically.

"It's all the favor that I will ever ask of you. Come with us and help us. My grandfather is a hard-head, but you, you can persuade him. I believe you can. Come with me, Serena. Everything is prepared; all I need is your answer. Say yes."

My throat constricted and I was appalled. Go with Darien? Sure, I would love to come with him, but to persuade his grandfather? "I wouldn't be able to do anything." I replied honestly. What made Darien think I had the ability to persuade his grandfather? I never even met the old guy. "I'm an American. He'll hate me before I even open my mouth." I noted, highlighting the facts.

"But that's the point." Darien pointed out. "You're an American. You can show him the good side to America. I need you to prove to him he's got it all wrong. Americans aren't all bad."

I stared at him skeptically. "Have you even talked it over with Ann?"

"No," he admitted, "But that's not the point. I haven't asked her about it, but I figure she'll agree."

"Darien," I said my voice in a soft whisper. "I can't," I said and shook my head. I couldn't go with Darien. It would be complicated for me. It wouldn't be right if I go. I can't possibly help them because I couldn't even stand the sight of them together. "I can't, Darien. I'm sorry."

"Serena, please. Come with me." Darien begged, his eyes pleading. He reached his hand out to catch one of mine.

I almost flinched under his touch. "I don't know. I can't leave my apartment, Darien. This is too unexpected." I pulled away from his touch. "I'm so sorry."

He chuckled and then his eyes gentled. "Calm down. It's all right. You don't have to apologize and you definitely don't have to answer right now. Here," He said taking my hand again and placed the ticket in the palm of my hand. "Hold it. It's your decision to go. And if you're swaying from your decision, just remember that I would really appreciate it if you would come."

I stared at him then, really looked at him, and saw how considerate he was. Darien wasn't pushing me. No, I thought, not in the least bit. My mouth opened and the only thing I could utter was, "Thank you."

Until next chapter...