Today was the first day of school.
And Guzman is having one of the worst hangovers he's ever had in his entire life. He even looks the part. His tie is disheveled and his hair ungelled and falling to his eyes. His Ray-Bans hang loosely from his head as he wobbles slightly in his steps as he heads for his locker.
"Mi Corazon," greets Lucrezia, beautiful and radiant and oh-so perfect as always. He feels his stomach sink at the sight of her but forces a smile nonetheless.
He owes her. He knows that.
"Lu," he breathes, opening his locker and stuffing his books inside it. He promptly closes it afterwards and just when he turns around, he spots her.
Radiant as ever.
He feels his breath escape his lungs as his heart begins to beat faster. Just as she looks to meet his eyes, Lucrezia leans up and plants a somewhat forceful kiss on his lips, dragging his attention away from Nadia.
"Just wanted to give you a good morning kiss," she says in a singsong voice as she runs her hand up and down his arm. From the corner of his eye, he can see her look at him, eyes unblinking and focused and he can't help but feel a pang of guilt lance through his chest.
Just then, the bell rings and Nadia continues to the classroom.
"I guess that's our cue honey," Lu says and they venture into first period.
At the corner of the classroom sits Nadia, hands clasped together properly as she waits for the teacher to enter and Guzman wishes that he could tell her. Tell her everything and apologize for ignoring her calls and avoiding her all summer and maybe, just maybe have a happy ending with the girl he truly wants.
Lu sits with Carla and from where he's seated, he could hear her tell the Marchioness-to-be about the sunkissed summer they had in Santorini and he feels what seems like regret beat in time with the painful throbbing behind his eyes.
He owes Lu.
Not just because she was there the whole summer. Not just because she had stood by him through the benders and the parties and the suicide attempts.
Santorini was a hazy trance filled with neon lights punctuated by deep, deep grief. And above it all, Lu (Nadia).
Guzman reminds himself that this is for the best and he's always belonged to her, to Lu, as she undresses and kisses him inside the girls' locker room.
"Guzman," she moans as he slides into her, already wet. He thinks of her and imagines what her skin would look like, pressed against the tiles of the locker room, blocks Lu out entirely from his senses and focuses on her.
No, she wouldn't ever do it in a place like this. She has too much sensibility for that. No. Maybe a posh hotel, in a plush king-sized bed filled with rose petals, her dark skin stark against the white of the sheets as he thrusts in, out, in, out.
"Guzman," Lu gasps as she wraps her arms tighter around him and he blows, a thousand sparks exploding behind his eyes just as she clamps around him.
"Guzman," she mouths as he plants an open-mouthed kiss on her neck.
"Why have you been ignoring me?"
Her soft voice tears him out of his reverie. They're the only ones inside the study hall aside from a few people, all too busy studying or listening to music to pay attention to them.
He looks up at her, eyes wide and surprised.
"Hm?" he asks stupidly out of surprise and certain amount of giddiness at her being so near, so close that he could grab her and kiss her and never let go if he so wanted.
But he can't because despite all his faults, Guzman Nunier was indeed a man of his word.
"Why have you been ignoring me?" she asks, a little bit more emphatically this time, the words catching a more emotional timbre, the syllables breaking slightly at the edges.
He sighs, musters up enough strength to do what he has to.
"What do you mean?" he feigns ignorance because it's the best he can do. Admittedly, it's a little bit too pathetic even for him.
"You know very well what I mean," she fires back, all rock hard edges and steel now. The hurt and the emotion he caught a while ago have all but disappeared. A few of the other students turn to look at them.
"Nadia, what did you think would happen?" he starts, his voice barely above a whisper, enunciating the words that he's practiced a thousand times inside his head with a calculated rigidity. "That I would court you, take you out to fancy dinners and buy you flowers? Maybe even a couple of necklaces?"
His words are acidic and it burns and he knows it. Her eyes cloud over momentarily, a mixture of hurt and anger as her hands ball into fists.
A second passes and she uncurls her hands and regains her bearing, her eyes no longer projecting any kind of emotion. It feels like a wall has risen between them and Guzman can't help but choke back his pain like he has been doing all summer.
"Very well, you are right. We are worlds apart and I was stupid for thinking otherwise," she says, her words laced with venom and he can't help but recoil internally. "Thank you for making me see that. I wish you and Lucrezia the very best."
With that, she turns around and walks out of the hall and it's like the air inside the hall has shifted, pressurized and suddenly, it's like he can't breathe.
The school year passes in a haze and the days blur into each other. Nadia no longer looks at him or acknowledges him. Sometimes their eyes meet but it feels like she's looking right through him, not at him.
He goes home every day to a grieving home. His mother stops going out of her room and his father starts to disappear for hours during the night. They smile for the cameras, show that they are still a family standing by one another despite all the hardships with his father's ongoing case and his sister's murder.
He hangs out with his friends somtimes after school but not so much anymore, preferring instead to go out to the lake and just stay there. That is, if Lucrezia isn't gluing herself to his side.
At this point, he knows that it will always be Lucrezia and Guzman and Guzman and Lucrezia and he tells himself he should be happy. That it is for the best.
And Nadia…Nadia could finish her studies in Las Encinas, go to an Ivy League university and get a degree of her choice, excel in her field and change the world.
She could turn the world on its feet and he knows that.
And that is why he remind himself that he should stay away.
His sister is like the 3pm shadow on his shoulder. All-consuming and persistent and he drowns it with expensive whiskey and the taste of Lucrezia's lips.
Nadia excels in all her classes, as per usual and deep down inside, he is proud of her.
Lu though, isn't of course and subjects him to endless hours of rants about that 'dowdy little Muslim rat with no fashion taste' and somtimes he just wants to sit in a corner and cover his ears with his hands.
One day, he yells at her, "Shut up!"
And she does, all wide eyes and worry and cooing voices as she apologizes and fusses over him like the perfect little socialite housewife she wants to be.
Sometimes, he just wishes she would leave him alone.
During a dewey Sunday morning, Guzman finds himself outside Nadia's family's store right before it opens for no inexplicable reason at all.
He can see her behind the glass, dusting off shelves and arranging merchandise and whatnot and he feels a sense of calm wash over him, watching her from afar.
She will take that trophy home this year for sure and he knows it and deep down inside, he can't help but rejoice and shout a, "Fuck you Lucrezia," inside. The poor little rich girl probably doesn't deserve him not loving her but to be honest, he doesn't feel like he seems to care.
He owes her, he reminds himself daily and puts up with it so Nadia can have what she deserves.
Just then, as Nadia takes a seat behind the counter, her eyes meet his and the wind blows out from under him. A few seconds pass before he comes to his senses and tear his eyes away, walking away from her once more.
He can still feel his heart beating by the end of the day