Sometimes, when you go down for a midnight snack, you leave with more than a full stomach. R&R. [TxN]
"Neil, fight!" I heard Archie command somewhere to my left. It seemed that had become Archie's catchphrase at the beginning of every battle, as if it actually provided Neil any motivation whatsoever. In any case, Neil sighed and got up, lazily dodging an attack thrown at him by the mythical beast.
I suppose that to me, Neil was an enigma. He didn't seem at all interested in fighting, and yet he could beat Herry in a wrestling match. I had never seen him go for a run, and yet he was fast enough to evade a Chimera's attacks. He hadn't studied or practiced for our training exams, and yet he passed them with flying colors. And, strangely enough, he did all this while screaming like a little girl.
The one thing Neil actually wanted, however, he never seemed to get. Neil commanded respect from everyone around him, but he never officially received it. Not that he had noticed, and if he had, I doubt he paid it any mind. No one on the team openly respected Neil, because we all knew if we did, his ego might explode in a flurry of sparkles and photo shoot negatives. I suppose, though, in our own small ways, we all respected Neil, simply because we had to.
Neil was cocky and self-assured, and an unfortunate part of human nature would be that confidence demanded, and ultimately would always receive respect. You had to respect Neil in some way, whether he knew about it or not was optional. I respected Neil more than anyone (besides himself), I think. I did so because he had enough guts to go after what he wanted. The fact that Neil sometimes didn't get it wasn't important, the fact that he simply could openly go for it was.
"Theresa, look out!" Suddenly, I felt myself landing with a hard thud on the cement, Jay's body on top of mine.
"Uh, sorry, but the Manticore almost... uh..." He stammered, and I could see his cheeks redden with embarrassment. There was one thing Jay could learn from Neil, and that was confidence.
"Jay, I could really use your help here!" I heard Atlanta call out, annoyed.
"Coming!" Jay glanced at me one more time before getting up and running to aid Atlanta. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Neil bending over to pick up a nail file, the Manticore's tail flying right over his head. I was always amazed at his amount of luck.
I withdrew my weapon and stepped into the fray, knowing this battle would be over almost as soon as it had begun.
The next morning, after breakfast, everyone was seated around the television, arguing over which movie to watch. I took a seat on the couch next to Jay, not listening to whatever they were bickering over. Jay cleared his throat, unsure of what to say, it seemed.
I'm not sure why, but that rush I used to feel when I was near Jay was gone. I don't know where it went, but wherever it was, it had decided not to send me a postcard.
"Morning, Theresa." Jay smiled.
"Morning, Jay." I smiled back.
I had always known Jay was different around me than he was around other girls. I wasn't stupid, I had known all about his crush ever since we met. I don't know if that rush I had felt was because I actually had a crush on him, or perhaps it was just obligation to feel attracted. It was such a typical, teenaged situation: boy meets girl, boy and girl are forced to save the world, boy and girl pull a Scott Summers and Jean Grey and fall madly in love.
Nonetheless, I don't think I was ever in love with Jay. I think I was in like, maybe smitten with the fact that the leader of the team chose me over anyone else. Had I been stringing him along, enjoying the confidence that I was the object of his affection? After all, Jay was really great catch. Sure, he was a little too responsible, and kind of obsessed with perfection, but didn't that just mean that in his eyes, I was perfection?
The problem wasn't how he saw me, it was how he saw himself. If I was perfection to him, what was he to him? I know he looked down on himself for every mistake he made. Sometimes, he even scolded himself for the ones other people made. No matter how good a time we were supposed to be having, he was always wracked with worry, or too uptight thinking about the future to live in the moment. I suppose, ultimately, that's what drove me away from him romantically.
Another thing about Jay that always kept a certain distance between us was that he could never really be invested in a relationship. Jay was convinced that he had to be on guard at all times. I don't think he could ever really concentrate on me, because, even though he'd never admit it, Jay would eat, drink, and sleep Cronus.
Don't get me wrong, of course, I will always think of Jay as one of my very best friends. Fate introduced us for a reason, and I don't think I could ever live without him. I felt guilty, though, that I could never truly feel for him what he felt for me. But we were young, and teenage romance, like all romance, could be difficult, one sided, and sometimes mistaken for something else. Eventually, he would love someone else, just as he thought he loved me. Love wasn't the word for it, in any case, Jay's love for me was merely infatuation.
"All right, we're watching Gone in 60 Seconds." Herry popped the DVD in and pressed play, while Odie turned off the lights and the others took a seat either on the sofa, on the Lazy-Boy, or on the floor. The opening credits started to roll by, and before long, I could feel a weight suddenly appear on my shoulder.
An arm. Jay's arm. I smiled. It was cute and boyish, how he didn't know how to handle these kinds of situations. Nonetheless, I decided not to let him have this impression. I quietly removed his arm from my shoulders, and announced that I was going to make some popcorn.
Jay frowned, and for a moment, I felt bad. He was blushing, embarrassed and avoiding my gaze. I shook my head. That was one thing that was nice about Neil; nothing could decimate his ego.
It was evening. After the movie, we had all gone our separate ways, and then, returning to school, went through about two hours of training. Finally, at around 7:00, everyone (except Neil), decided to go for a group jog. I kept ahead of Jay the entire time, not wanting to face him. I was hoping I had finally gotten the message across that morning, and I didn't feel like a confrontation tonight.
When I returned to my dorm an hour later, I quickly got out of my clothes and took a long, 20 minute shower. I got out, put my hair in a towel, and changed into my pajamas. My nightgown was in the wash, so I opted for a grey tank top and blue plaid pajama pants. I wasn't quite tired yet, so I sat on my bed and immersed myself in my guilty pleasure: Harlequin.
Time passed, and soon I heard a rather unattractive rumble pull me out of my world of romantic literature. My stomach growled again. I sighed, finally placing down my book and checking the time. 11:27 PM. I really did get caught up in reading sometimes. I grabbed my bookmark and placed it on the page, putting my book down on the bed and got up. Remembering it was still on my head, I unraveled the towel and threw it in the laundry basket. I shook my head and ran my fingers through my still vaguely damp hair before leaving the dorm and heading for the kitchen.
Arriving in the kitchen, I decided against turning the lights on. I opened the refrigerator door and inspected its contents. All the things a hero could possibly need: vegetables and fruits of every variety, bread, uncooked bacon, leftover rice from the other night, none of which appealed to my stomach's demand for junk food.
"Athena hides all the good stuff in the cupboard." A voice behind me said, as I nearly jumped out of my skin. I spun around, the bluish light emanating from the refrigerator illuminating a tall, thin figure in black pants and a white t-shirt.
"Neil, you scared me." I told him, slightly out of breath.
"Sorry, but I thought you should know that all the stuff in the fridge is healthy." Neil made a faux grimace and smiled. "All the junk food is in the cupboard."
He walked over to the cupboard left of the fridge, opened it and placed some canned broth on the counter.
"Oh, yeah, just what I was craving: cream of broccoli." Neil withdrew his head from inside the cupboard and stuck his tongue out at me, before reaching far in and pulling out a bag of potato chips.
"Told you so. When will you people ever figure it out that Neil is all knowing?" Neil rolled his eyes, sighing in his normal manner, and this time it was my turn to stick my tongue out at him.
"Well, the next time a bag of Lay's becomes handy in battle, I'll let you know." I laughed as he rolled his eyes again.
"Well, maybe I won't let you have any." He stuck his nose up in the air and hugged the bag effeminately.
"But, Neil, just think: if you eat all those chips by yourself, you'll ruin your 'perfect body'." Neil looked at me, apparently missing the sarcasm (as is usual, considering it was Neil).
"I'll hand it to you, Theresa; you know just what to say." Neil smirked and opened another cupboard, taking out a big metal bowl. He opened the bag and poured the chips in, placing the bowl on the kitchen island and sliding it towards me.
I nodded and said thanks. We talked about a few things, none of them really important, just sitting there on opposite ends of the island, passing the chip bowl back and forth until there was one thin slice of fried potato left.
It's not that I was still hungry, but the challenging, I-dare-you-to look Neil gave me was too much fun to turn down. I flexed my hand, moving to the edge of my seat, eyes locked with Neil. He did the same, and neither of us made a move. I half expected a tumbleweed to roll by, like in the old westerns.
We observed each other carefully. For one moment, he flinched. I took this as initiative and lunged forward onto the island. He reacted quickly and did the same, not a split second after I had. My left hand grasped the rim of the metal bowl; his right grasped did the same, each of use holding one side. We were again at an impasse: our eyes locked, our free hands flexing and ready to dive into the bowl, to get the last potato chip we both knew neither of us really wanted.
His lips were set in a grin, mine as well. If anyone had seen us at that moment, we knew they'd have thought idiots of us. I suppose that's why I was doing this; Neil was one of the only people I could be silly with.
"There ain't room on this island for the both of us." Neil "threatened" in a Texas accent. I narrowed my eyes.
"Then I guess you're outta here!" I right hand flew forward towards the bowl. His left reacted quickly and gripped my wrist lightly right before I grabbed the chip. His left hand raised my right arm above the bowl. He smirked. I grinned and lifted my leg onto the island, then the other, and sat in front of the bowl, looming over him.
"Oh, you're good." Neil leered, following suit and sitting on his legs opposite me. Our two hands were still on the bowl, his other hand holding my arm above both our heads, and the only thing separating us was that little chip. "But I'm better."
I didn't recall a time when I had ever before been this close to Neil. I noticed the deep aquamarine color of his eyes (of course he was blonde haired and blue eyed) as they looked into mine. I noticed the softness of this hand, still gently holding my wrist. In general, I noticed that despite his dominant feminine personality, Neil was, in fact, all guy. And I did mean that in the best possible sense.
Now, don't get me wrong, I had never been attracted to Neil. Neil and I were friends; we would talk and laugh and joke around. I think I was one of the only people that could tolerate his arrogance, because I always found a way to laugh about it, and strangely, he never seemed to mind. When Herry or Atlanta would mock his cockiness, he'd respond with a simple, sarcastic, "Oh, ha ha", but it seemed when I did it, he'd just smile.
They say people never notice the things right in front of them. Ironic that now that I was right in front Neil, my face inches away from his own, that I had seen that just like Jay had treated me differently than other people, so had Neil. In that moment, from that distance, I suppose I noticed a lot of things, one of them being how fast my heart was beating.
"What's the matter, know I'm gonna win?" Neil asked. I suppose my grin had faded while I was lost in thought.
I didn't know what to say. I had grown tired of this game; all thoughts of that ridiculous thin crisp of potato had vanished from my mind. All I could concentrate on now, all I perhaps wanted to concentrate on were Neil's eyes, and the proximity of my body to his.
I lunged. I didn't think, and I lunged. This time, it wasn't my hand going for the chip. My body went forward, I closed my eyes, and without thinking, I pressed my lips to his. I, Theresa, the one that everyone expects to end up with Jay, kissed Neil, the one that everyone expects to end up with, well, Neil. No one could have seen it coming, not Jay, not Neil, and not even me. But there I was, sitting on a kitchen island kissing someone that, to my knowledge, didn't even think the same of me.
This is not something Athena would approve of. This is not something Jay would approve of. This was spontaneous, ill-planned (if planned at all), unexpected and completely, undoubtedly against the rules. This is something Jay would never do, and this is something I thought I would never do. But I suppose that everyone has that one person that brings out the outgoing side in them, and in this case, that one person was Neil.
A few seconds passed by. I was about to pull away, apologize, run back to my dorm, I wasn't quite sure what, but then I felt Neil's right hand on the back of my neck. And right then, I felt him kiss me back. Right then, in that singular moment, I felt a real rush. Not the grade school, playground, let's-make-sand-castles-together kind of childish rush I used to feel around Jay, but a real, spontaneous, uncalled for, uncouth, unexpected, passionate rush. Even weirder, that I was doing it with the most spontaneous, uncalled for, unexpected person.
His hand released my wrist and pushed away the metal bowl, which landed haphazard on the floor with a resounding clang. His hand then traveled to my waist, as I leaned back until I was lying down on the island with Neil on top of me. My heart beat faster; if someone, anyone were to see us right now, we'd be done for. I had never done something like this before; I was usually so much more reserved than this. At this moment, however, I didn't care. I had never felt so free, so wild.
We broke apart for air at some point, and then resumed kissing. His tongue entered my mouth and danced with mine, as my left hand went to the back of his neck and my right ran along his chest. It's funny how life gives you these unexpected twists. I never thought I would be doing this, here, with him. And yet, I didn't want to be anywhere else, doing anything else with anyone else. This was where I was, and where I wanted to stay.
Somewhere, I hear footsteps getting louder. I suppose Neil heard it too, because his lips left mine and he looked up. I whimpered, as his eyes looked sympathetically into mine, and I knew we had to stop. He climbed off of me, and off the island, before taking my hand and helping me down. The footsteps grew louder, reverberating through the kitchen, as my heartbeat pounded in my ears.
Neil and I exchanged worried glances. I stood on my toes and kissed him one more time, before we ran out of the kitchen and down the hall. We saw the kitchen light flick on right before we turned the corner, and didn't stop running until we got to the dorm building. From there, we knew we had to go our separate ways. I looked into his eyes, which, like mine, were filled with regret. Not regret of what we had done, but regret that now we had to go.
We didn't say a word as we ran in different directions. Even being clairvoyant, I didn't know what would happen. Would we be the same in the morning? Would we pretend it never happened? Would we meet like this every night, or could we find the courage to let the others know? What did any of this even mean? Was it just lust, or something more?
As I walked into my room, locked my door and flung myself onto my bed, I didn't know the answer to any of these questions. I wasn't sure if I wanted to know, either. All I knew was that I had felt something that night that I hadn't felt before, and now I was plagued by one question more than any other.
Did he really want me?
My eyelids, heavy from sleep, slowly drifted open. My room was pitch black and silent, except for an incessant tapping sound. I turned over in my bed and looked at the bright red letters of my clock, which read 3:46 AM. I groaned and squeezed my eyes shut, as the tapping continued, growing louder.
"Would you keep it down?" I yelled, groggily.
"Would you let me in?" A harsh whisper replied. My eyes flew open as I sat bolt upright in my bed. I looked around my room, obscured by darkness, confused.
"Where are you?" I demanded.
"Outside your door, where do you think I am? Let me in!" My eyes flew to the door, and suddenly I recognized the voice: Neil. I threw my blankets off me and ran to the door, unlocking it and opening it wide.
There he stood, disheveled in his monogrammed green pajamas. His eyes looked tired and his hair was a mess. It was almost cute; I had never seen him like this. Which was probably what he wanted; he was much too absorbed in his appearance to consciously let anyone see him right after he got out of bed. The fact that he had enough trust in me to let me see was sweet.
I didn't know what to say, I just stood there. I wanted to ask him what it had meant to him. I was about to say something when he leaned down and kissed me. At that moment, all thoughts of asking anyone anything left my head. I backed into my room, our lips still in an embrace as he closed the door. I heard the click of the lock as we finally parted, his eyes looking into mine.
"What did it mean?" I said, finally finding my voice.
"I don't know." He said after a long pause.
"What are we gonna do?" I asked.
"I don't know." He responded plainly. "Why don't we just not worry about it?"
And then I remembered why I always liked Neil so much. Because he didn't worry; because he didn't think about the future; because he lived in the moment.
But I still had one more question.
"Wanna stay?" I asked, and to my relief, he nodded. We went to my bed and laid down, my back to his chest and his arms around me. I closed my eyes, smiling.
I stopped asking questions. I stopped worrying about the next day, the next week, the next year. I didn't have to ask what this meant, because I knew. I didn't have to ask what we would do about it, because I knew. I didn't have to ask why he came here, because I knew. Most importantly, I didn't have to ask if he wanted me. It was then, as I drifted slowly to sleep in complete comfort that I remembered why I respected Neil in the first place: he went after what he wanted.