When the Lilies Turn Orange (Chapter 11)

When the Lilies Turn Orange (Chapter 11)

A Chapter by Raven Held

Eleven

 

 

Primrose

 

 

“The damage wasn’t all that bad,” I said. “Thank the world for that.”

“Not that bad?” Dean yelled, and I saw Rox wince. “Sorry, Rox. Raven, she could’ve died! Who knows what that freak might have gone on to do if we hadn’t stopped him?”

“Dean!” I yelled back, not even caring if Rox winced again. “For one thing, he is not a freak.” It came out like a venomous hiss. “And for another, he was almost back to normal, except you had to go punch him like some Neanderthal.”

“Oh, please,” Dean said disparagingly. “You really are crazy about him, aren’t you. Pun intended.”

Dom made an involuntary movement beside me. Everyone was silent for a minute. There was only the strange perpetual whirring in the background of the hospital ward.

“So I guess you know how I met Connell,” I said quietly.

Dom only nodded. A moment passed as we caught each other’s eyes. “I need a drink,” he finally said and left the ward.

“Wow, that’s the face of a broken heart if I ever saw one, Raven.”

 

*

 

Somehow, I knew where I could find him.

“It’s been a while since you last granted us your presence. About time you came.”

“I was here only last Saturday, Carla Jo,” I said.

“Well, it’s okay, really,” she said breezily, and for a moment I felt somewhat insulted. “We have our entertainment, nonetheless. Such a charming boy.”

“Connor?” I asked, testing her.

“It’s Connell.”

“Looking for me, J Lo?” When he came into view and saw my amused smirk (so she had made him call her that at last), he face fell flat, as did his tone. “Oh. Hey.”

“Well hey, nice to see you too, Connell,” I said.

Carla Jo’s gaze was ticking back and forth between us, her beady eyes narrowing in suspicion.

I turned to her. “Do you mind granting us some privacy, J Lo?”

“That won’t be necessary,” Connell interjected before she could squawk a reply. She threw me a triumphant look at that.

“Why not?” I demanded.

“Because we don’t have anything to talk about in private.”

“Oh, so you’re just going to pretend like nothing happened yesterday, like Rox…?” I left it at that, keenly aware of J Lo’s gaze upon me, so narrowed that her eyes were mere slits. She actually had half of her face edging closer to me, her lips pursed, just like how a cartoon character would look.

Connell sighed, glanced at Carla Jo, then grabbed my arm and steered me out towards the courtyard. It was bright outside, and the trees were splashed with brilliant hues of gold and emerald.

“Well?” Connell demanded.

I tore my gaze away from the flame of the forest we were standing before and turned to look at him. He looked away just as I almost caught his eye, his discomfort evident, though he tried to make it look like he was the one being put upon.

“So what happened to you yesterday … after?”

He clenched and unclenched his jaw. “Got towed away by the police. Like many times before.” He shrugged, but he looked like he just cricked his neck. “You know.”

“Well, Rox and her parents decided not to press charges,” I said. “That’s a " good thing.”

He did not reply.

I chewed on my lower lip, trying to find something to fill the space between us. I was so hopeful about seeing him, thinking that once I saw him he would say a sorry that I would find completely unnecessary, and we would just leave yesterday where it belonged. What was I thinking?

“Wasn’t so lucky the previous time,” he said softly after I had just about chewed a hole through my lower lip.

“Do you want to talk about it " now?”

He buried a tiny anthill near him, running his shoe so deep into the ground it left an indentation.

“I’ll take that as a no,” I said.

“What are you doing here?” He sounded tired.

“I just wanted to see how you were.”

“You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

He finally turned to face me with a frown. “Treating me like a charity case.”

“I’m not!” I couldn’t believe it. Indignation made me blush.

“Whatever,” he said, and turned back away. “Guess you are your father’s daughter, after all.”

I held his face with my hand and turned it to face me.

“Don’t,” he said. The word was hard, brittle, yet was a crusty flake that would crumble to dust once you prodded it too hard. “Stay away from me.”

“I don’t want to,” I said softly.

“Raven,” he said, with no small amount of exasperation. He removed my hand from his face, but held on to it with both of his. “You know my condition. You know how I can be when I … lose it. It scares everyone, including me. I don’t want you to " to be there when it happens again. Maybe you should really just take everyone’s advice and stay further away from me.”

“How did you…?”

“Their intense loathing of me isn’t exactly hard to miss. It’s obvious what they would tell you to do.”

I stared at the expanse of green before us for a long moment until my eyes hurt, before saying, “Fine. So is that what you want me to do?”

“It’s not about what I want you to do,” he said, exhaling in exasperation again. “It’s about what you should do. What you should do is get the hell away from me before " before what happened happens again. I’ve let you down too many times, Raven. You’re a good person; you don’t deserve this.”

When I began to protest, he said, in a voice loud enough to drown out whatever I had to say, “Every time I look at you, I see a reflection of myself " my disappointing self " in your eyes. We could just be normal and happy for a while, but whatever happens next will come so quickly it stamps out everything we shared just a moment ago. You know what I’m talking about.”

He held on steadily to my gaze until I felt it was imperative to look away this time.

“I’m not like other guys, Raven,” he went on. “You’ll do better with someone like Dominic. You should see the way he looks at you.” He shook his head slightly. “He’s a hell lot less stressful to be with.”

I fingered his lips, hoping I could upturn that sad smile.

“But I don’t want to,” I repeated. “I don’t care if you go nuts and start punching obese security guards.” He didn’t find that funny. “I don’t even care if you punch me.”

He winced. “I do. Look, just " go away, okay? It’ll do you good. And your friend will be much happier with you too.”

“Rox? What does she know? She barely skims the surface of psychology 101. I don’t care what she says about you, or us " or what anyone else says, for that matter "”

I paused, a horrible thought striking me.

“Raven? What’s wrong?”

“Unless you don’t want me anywhere near you,” I said quietly. “It’s okay. I understand if you don’t want to see me. Maybe all that we shared was just me getting carried away with something that was never there in the first place. I don’t know for sure what it’s like between us now, or where we stand, but….”

I had barely finished what I was going to say, when he gently pushed me against the flame of the forest and started kissing me. When I stumbled in surprise, he laid his hand on my waist to support me back up, his lips crushed against mine, gentle but powerful at the same time.

Admittedly, I have limited experience in the kissing department, but when Connell kissed me, somehow, everything was thrown into startling clarity. Silence rang and diffused, rang and diffused, like ripples that started from a point but had no true beginnings; brightness burned beneath my eyelids; and the beat of his heart throbbed warmly through me, jarring every inch of my body.

When we finally pulled apart, he said, his breath slightly shaky, “Does that answer your question?”

“Question?” I murmured stupidly, staring at him. His frame was outlined by gold dust, and flecks of his slightly tousled hair reflected the sun’s rays.

“About where we stand,” he murmured back. “I hope this is clear enough.”

Was it enough to make me deliriously happy? Hell, yes. But was it clear enough to tell me what his decision was? No.

“So does that mean we’re together now?” I asked. I needed solid answers for this one. “Does that mean you aren’t going to push me away anymore and accept the fact that I’m not going anywhere?”

I decided I should shut up then, before he started backing off from me like I were the schizo.

He let go of my waist and placed both this hands on my face, staring hard into my eyes. “Raven,” he said, his gaze burning into mine, a wide blanket of conviction that left me nowhere else to run to.

Not that I even wanted to.

“You should know that I don’t want you to go anywhere,” he said. “I just want you right here with me; you have no idea how much I want that "”

“I already am here with you,” I pointed out, rather irrelevantly, I know.

He rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. The thing is, it’s not what I want that matters. I can’t be that selfish "”

“Would it help if I said it’s what I want too?”

“Oh, Raven,” he murmured. His eyes were sad, almost rueful. But a tinge of delight danced behind the overshadowing cloak of regret. I knew then that nothing else mattered, as long as I could see that in his eyes Every time he was with me.

“You might as well face it, Connell,” I said, hoping my voice did not betray the fact that my heart still throbbed with self-doubt. “I’m not going anywhere.”

A smile grew upon his face, one side of his lips raised higher, as he held my gaze all the while. “I was hoping you’d say that,” he admitted. And then he leaned down and kissed me on the tip of my nose.

“So " about that game,” I said, opening my eyes after having savoured that kiss.

He groaned. “Please, no more mind games. Are you trying to drive me nuts?”

“Funny,” I said, throwing him a look. He shrugged, grinning. “Well I’m glad you can be candid about this too. But we left our game hanging at the rules the other time.”

“What do you propose, then?” He actually sounded wary, like I was going to pounce on him and haul him off to the loony bin.

“You can start by telling me the greatest lie you’ve ever told " or one of them, anyway,” I said, taking his hand and pulling him over to a bench. We sat side by side, facing the expanse of green, the only buffer against J Lo’s curious ears back at the Beaming Rose.

“Gee,” he said, pulling a face. “How lovely " a sharing session.”

“It’s not a sharing session.” I rolled my eyes. When he raised his brows, I conceded, “Fine. Call it what you choose. I’m naming it Untruths.”

“Maybe we need some nail polish and throw pillows.”

“What for?”

“Isn’t that what girls do when they gossip in each other’s rooms?” He laughed when I punched him in his arm. The sound was a fresh foamy wave that broke against the warm golden sand.

“When you’re done being condescending, you can begin.”

He placed a hand on my head, like I were a child that needed to be reasoned with. “Raven, it can’t be a game if there’s no way to win it. Sharing my lies won’t make me win the game. So why even call it a game?”

“You’re just trying to stall for time,” I grumbled. “But okay, I’ll humour you. To win, you’d have to … provide your theory on why I lied. If you get it right, you win.”

“What?” He looked about to laugh, but bit his lip just in time.

“It’s called Untruths, isn’t it? So I’m going to throw in a lie from time to time, and if you can figure out my rational for lying, you win.” He looked dubious. “I’m winning this for sure,” I informed him, grinning. “I might have inherited my dad’s ability to read people like the juiciest romance novel my mom ever has.”

He snickered. “You’re forgetting one thing.”

“What’s that?” I frowned at the taunting tone of his voice.

“I’m a guy. We are hardwired to win,” he said, grinning and kneading his arm where I punched him, harder this time.

And then he began.

“I told my dad Charm was at a writing camp last year when she was in fact spending the week away at the Bahamas with her then-boyfriend. The Bahamas! I don’t know how she managed all that behind our backs.” He looked so agonised " like the stressed-out dad of a rebellious teenage daughter " that I couldn’t help but laugh a little.

“That’s not such a bad lie,” I said.

“Are you kidding me? It’s one of the worst thing a brother can do. Instead of preventing her from going, I lied for her so she could run off with some boy she barely even knew!”

“You were just trying to help,” I said, and then wondered why I was helping to excuse his mistakes.

“Our dad will kill her if he ever found out.” I froze, and he glanced askance at me. “I meant figuratively. Sort of.”

Blushing, I quickly said, “You were just trying to protect her.”

“In the wrong way,” he pointed out, and I really could not argue with that. After a moment of silence, he said, “Now it’s your turn.”

I suddenly felt uncomfortable with what I planned to say. It didn’t seem appropriate, like I was overstepping some invisible boundary if I said it out loud. So I said instead, “We should get back,” and got up from the bench.

He frowned. “What? Are you trying to worm out of this now? I was just starting to get warmed up.”

“No!” I said. He raised his brows, a smile playing lopsidedly. I sighed " who could resist that look of his anyway? " and plopped back down next to him.

“Okay,” I said, and took a deep breath. “I lied to Rox and my parents yesterday. When I went out for breakfast with you and Reilly, I told Rox I was going to the Garden, and my parents I was going over to Rox’s.”

As expected, a profound sense of shame overtook me. Now that I had said it out loud, I started to wonder why I had lied; there was absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

“That’s okay,” he said, squeezing my hand. “I understand.”

“What?”

“Well,” he said, shrugging slowly. “Me and Reilly and the crew … We’re a different, separate part of your life. You can’t seem to reconcile this part with the other, where your family and friends belong. You don’t have to feel bad about telling me that " or lying about that.”

I didn’t want him to think that way " that he was an isolated part of my life that did not fit in anywhere else " but somehow, when he said it, I felt that I could not exactly refute it.

“Are you psychoanalysing me?” I said, peering into his face.

He laughed, and my breath caught in my throat again. It seemed like I could never tire of his laughter. It was a sweet breeze that washed through me, leaving in its wake a scent of tangerines and sea salt.

“But you’re the one who has a psychiatrist for a dad,” he said, pulling a puzzled face.

And then we both leaned in at the same time so our lips could meet again.

The air had been dyed a blinding shade of orange around us by the time we finally pulled away.

“We really should get back,” Connell said ruefully. When I sighed, he said, “J Lo will be wondering where we are.”

“Let her wonder away,” I said. “You know she can find entertainment in almost everything.”

“I promised her I’ll watch Jailhouse Rock with her today.”

“You mean she’s already imposed her Elvisities on you?” He smiled slightly, and I sighed again, fingering his lips. “I guess I should go visit Rox now anyway,” I said, checking the time.

His arm stiffened beneath mine. “Send her my apologies,” he said quietly.

“Don’t be silly.” I glanced over at the Beaming Rose for something to look at. “No-one’s blaming you for anything.”

When the silence grew too pregnant to ignore, I turned back to look at him. He had a flat gaze fastened upon me. I felt stupid, like I had just said something inane like ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’ to a grieving widow.

But I couldn’t find anything else to say, so I just got up from the bench and pulled him back to the Beaming Rose, where J Lo, I was sure, was sitting by the window spying on us.

 

*

 

“I knew it,” she said the minute I stepped into the ward. “You went to see him, didn’t you?”

How did she know these things? Was I really that predictable?

“You’re not all that hard to read, Raven,” she said, narrowing her gaze.

So I’d been told.

“Had fun?”

I eyed my best friend. Did she really want the truth? I decided to preserve my life, and kept my mouth shut.

After a moment, I asked, “So where’re Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum?”

“Out for a moment,” Rox replied frostily.

I sighed. “Is this how you’re going to be whenever Connell is involved? He says he’s really sorry.”

“I’m sure he is,” she said. Seeing my frown, she said, “No, really. I’m sure he didn’t mean it. He probably didn’t know what he was doing.”

I nodded eagerly.

“But I still don’t like you hanging out with him, Raven. I really don’t. And your mom seems to agree.”

“Aw, Rox, you’re still my best friend " ”

“Not funny, Raven. Seriously, I don’t like the idea of you being around someone like him…”

“Wait.” Injustice rankled in me. It seemed like it was doing so more frequently these days. I mean, here we were again, her showing her prissy disapproval of Connell " whom she barely even knew, much less began to understand " and me fending off the battalion of well-meaning but misguided intentions. “Someone like him?

The air around us winced at the prickliness of my tone.

Rox sighed, and we let a moment of silence swell and deflate between us before she said, in a chirpier tone, “Your brother suggested a quiet dinner after I’m out of here " just us two.”

Suppressing a grin, I said, “Whoopee.”

“You know, this would be so much easier if you preferred Dom to Connell.”

My eyes narrowed. “You know what I see Dom as.”

“I know, I know. I’m just saying. I think he went to get cranberry scones for you, since I told him you’d be back by today. This is so unfair. I’m the one who got her skull cracked” " I winced " “but you get your lovely favourite teatime snack.”

“Look who’s getting bratty,” Dom said as he and my brother entered the ward. I couldn’t really look at Dom properly, but he just came over to me and thrust a box of scones under my nose. “Hey,” he said. “I got you scones,” like how he always did when he came over to the Garden after school.

I smiled like I was surprised. “Wow, thanks.” As we munched on those heavenly scones (Dom always got them from Uncle Henry’s Bakery, where their cranberry scones were nothing like anyone has ever tasted before), I asked Rox, “So when did the doctor say you’re going to be discharged?”

“Tomorrow morning, if everything’s okay,” she said.

“So how does it actually feel to have your skull cracked?” Dom wanted to know. He bit off half of his scone in a mouthful.

I winced again. “Am I the only one who can’t face up to this description?”

“No, you’re not,” Dean quipped up. He looked every bit as pained as I was, maybe even more.

Dom shrugged with a grin. “Sorry, but she really did get her skull "”

“Okay, I get it,” Dean said.

“Gee, I don’t know, Dom,” Rox said. “Maybe that it hurt so much I couldn’t even feel the air on my skin?”

“Actually, nobody can feel the air on their skin unless it’s windy,” Dean said.

We all just stared at him.

“Irrelevant, as usual,” Dom said finally.

“And not even technically accurate,” I added.

I was just getting started on my second scone when there was a slight knock on the door. When it opened, I almost fell off Rox’s bed. Seeing Connell unexpected always took my breath away so much more than it did when I expected to " in the best way imaginable.

His hair was messed up, tousled as usual, but in a way that showed he had too much else to care about rather than setting his hair right. His eyes shone dimly, clouded by doubt and embarrassment at seeing all of us sitting there staring at him.

“Connell!” I said, finally breaking the stunned pause. The air started moving again. I got up and went to his side, about to slip my hand into his when Rox cleared her throat and sat up straighter in her bed. I kept my hands in my jeans pocket after that.

“Hi,” he said, his eyes darting about from face to face. “Uh, I just " I just thought I’d come and see … the damage I’ve done?”

My best friend, my brother and Dom continued staring at him. I rubbed his lower arm.

“I’m really sorry about that,” Connell went on, looking as though he wished he could melt into the scarily white walls of the ward. He thrust his arm out as he approached Rox’s bed. “Here. I, uh, got you something. Hope you’re feeling better.”

I smiled at Rox, raising my brows.

“Yeah,” Rox said, snapping out of her hesitancy. “Yeah, no, I " it’s fine, really. Just as long as it doesn’t happen again.”

“Rox,” I warned, as Dom got up to help Connell with the fruit basket he brought.

After exchanging a ‘hey’ with Dom and a nod with my brother (who barely glanced at him), Connell rubbed his palms against his jeans.

“I didn’t know Jailhouse Rock lasted for only” " I checked my watch " “half an hour.”

“I told J Lo I had something I forgot to tell you,” he said.

“And she actually let you go? Wow, she must be head over heels for you already.”

Rox chuckled. Dean remained stone-faced. Dom watched impassively, but his fingers couldn’t stop fiddling with the cardboard box containing the scones.

Dom seemed to realise what he was doing all of a sudden, and held out the box to him, “Scone?”

“No, thanks. It’s alright. I should be going anyway,” Connell said, and he started backing out of the ward.

“What? You only just got here,” I said, disappointment embarrassingly obvious in my voice.

“It’s an appointment,” he said. “With your dad,” he added in a lower voice to me. “I’ll see you.”

He left with a hasty ‘bye’ to the rest before I could say anything else.

The space before me felt wider all of a sudden, and the white of the room burned around me.



© 2012 Raven Held


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Added on June 28, 2012
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Author

Raven Held
Raven Held

Singapore, Singapore



About
Aspiring author, dreamer, TV addict, fed with a steady diet of grapes, green tea and supernatural fiction. I have five novels under my belt and is working on her sixth. more..

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