See, there were many, many things that got under Kliff's skin. Tobin being annoying. School. Loud noises. Annoying people in general. The list went on and on.
But there was one thing that not just topped the list, it scoffed upon the list and used the list to wipe dirt off its cheek.
Somehow, it wasn't Monday mornings. That was on the list, between lack of good coffee and a bad night's sleep.
No, it was a long, long story. It started when, one day, Faye just dragged him into her house and into a wacky scheme.
Alm, Tobin, and Gray were constantly visiting each other's houses, to the point that their guardians found it odd if their kids went straight home. Faye was a bit shyer, but still visited others from time to time. Kliff was a begrudging host if asked, but never asked to come over. Most didn't ask him to visit either, since they were aware he would most likely refuse in favour of a book.
So, why did he go over to Faye's house in the first place?
She didn't give him a choice.
No, seriously. She dragged him all the way from school to her house.
It was annoying, but mildly so, since she promised it wouldn't take long and it was just a small matter. Kliff trusted her, for some reason, which was a huge mistake.
The moment she got him inside, she started rambling. Which would have easily become irritating if he didn't quickly cut her off and tell her to slow down.
"Boyfriend. You. Be Alm?" Faye attempted, trying to catch her breath.
"Wrong boy," Kliff retorted. "Actually check to see if you kidnapped the right person next time."
"No, nonono, no," Faye insisted. "You... I want to ask you to be my practice boyfriend. For Alm."
Kliff gave her an incredulous look.
"Because, I don't want to mess up asking him out or anything! And I don't want to mess up dating him, or holding his hand, or—"
"No, I mean. Why me?"
Faye blinked, before giving him a weird look.
"Would you trust Tobin or Gray to be your fake boyfriend?"
"I likely wouldn't even bother with one," Kliff stated. Faye stared at him flatly, and he replied in an almost defensive manner. "What? What's the point of going through all this work when you can just ask him to grab a coffee?"
"I can't just do that!" Faye exclaimed. "It has to be perfect!"
Faye grabbed him by the edge of his sleeve as he turned, tugging him back slightly.
With an inexplicable glint to her eyes, she told him, "I asked you because... well, you're you. You have this feeling that you won't be, well, as stupid as the other boys are. You're not loud or obnoxious like Gray and Tobin can be sometimes. It's like... you're more mature somehow. More understanding. I feel like I can trust you with something I can't trust to anyone else."
Vulnerability creeping into her tone, she asked, "please?"
And then sighed.
"Fine. I'll help."
Faye's face visibly brightened, but before she could say anything, he silenced her with a glare.
"One thing, though," he told her. "Don't expect me to act like Alm."
"Not even a little bit?" Faye asked.
"Not if you actually want me to play along," Kliff said.
Faye let out a small laugh.
"That's fair. I'm already asking a lot with you agreeing to help me, so asking you to act like Alm for me... that'd be too much, right?"
Truth be told, Kliff wasn't entirely sure that was the right way to put it. But, for someone who read so much, he was completely at a loss to put his reasoning for it into words, so he just nodded.
They parted ways that day with Faye walking Kliff to his house. It was a daunting distance of two blocks over, and Kliff gave her the gracious thanks she deserved for traversing such a strenous distance for his sake.
The next day, he half expected her to drag him to her home again. So he was completely prepared when she grabbed him by the wrist and literally dragged him away from his reading spot.
He was fully aware of Gray and Tobin and Alm staring. He doubted Faye noticed, though, seeing how easily she could get tunnel vision. She probably completely forgot that other people could see them.
Ah well. It was too much of a pain to tell her, Kliff decided.
"What did you drag me here for?" he asked.
"Handholding practice," Faye declared.
Kliff, for his part, knew just from the look in her eyes that she wouldn't back down. So he sighed and told her to do whatever she wanted.
Facing him, Faye grabbed his hand with both of hers eagerly.
"What do you think?" she asked, squeezing his hand. "Feel your heart pounding yet?"
"It's the opposite, actually," Kliff replied. "You're cutting off my circulation."
"Faye," he said, staring her in the eye with an exasperated expression, "I can't feel my fingers."
She was so stunned that she let go of Kliff's hand, and Kliff enjoyed the feeling of being able to move his hand freely.
"And besides, who holds hands like that?" Kliff added. "When you think of handholding, you usually think of holding hands as you walk side by side, right?"
Faye chuckled awkwardly.
"...you were thinking of a romance novel, weren't you."
"Ah ha ha ha...?"
"Faye," he said in the most judgemental way possible.
"What?! I don't judge your literature choices!" Faye huffed.
"I don't try to enact stories about princes and knights in reality," he pointed out.
"That's because you don't have a sword. If you had the chance, you'd totally put on a cape and pretend to slay evil dragon gods," Faye stated in a flat voice.
"What? No, I wouldn't. Didn't you say just yesterday how mature I was?"
"You can be mature and young, silly."
Her laugh was weirdly annoying.
But, somehow, he didn't mind it, at least in that moment.
Kliff was notoriously hard to wake up. It was practically an unsaid rule among their group; if Kliff was napping, it doesn't matter if he's going to be late for class. Just let him sleep, lest he maul you.
...not literally. Gods no, not literally.
But he would maul you in spirit, with insults and and grumpiness.
Faye, however, took her chances one day.
Albeit, she did it by calmly knocking on his bedroom door. When that of course failed, she went inside and opened the curtains. This was kind of like presenting garlic skewered on wooden pikes to a vampire while inviting that vampire to a noon picnic in the sunniest place possible, given how both ended with the pale guy hissing and trying to hide under a swath of fabric.
"Kliff," Faye attempted.
"No. It's too goddamn early for this."
"Kliff, you're going to be late for school."
"I don't care."
"I'm going to put an icepack down your shirt if you don't get up."
Kliff emerged from his blanket cocoon, glaring at her furiously.
"You wouldn't dare."
"Then I suppose I brought this up the stairs for nothing," Faye said with a bland smile, holding up a bag of ice.
"How the hell did you even get in my house?"
"Childhood friend perks."
"Kliff, is it really so hard to believe that I might not want you to be late to school?" Faye asked pointedly.
"Yes," Kliff answered.
"Okay, so I might have wanted to practice holding your hand while we walked to school," Faye admitted after a short pause. "But it's also partially motivated by concern for you and your attendance record."
"Faye," Kliff said flatly. "Go home."
"I'll buy you food on the way home from school," Faye declared.
And that was that.
They started walking to school together, hand in hand. Of course, they stopped before anyone at school could see them and get the wrong idea, but Faye didn't seem to realize that Gray's parents, the town gossips, had seen them...
Well, it was too bothersome to tell her, especially since Kliff was kind of occupied.
"Is it too tight? Am I pulling? Should we intertwine fingers or no? Am I too short? Should I—"
"Faye," Kliff called out. "Please stop talking."
There was a terse moment of silence, then...
They paused, realizing that the other had said the exact same thing at the exact same time.
"...sorry," Kliff repeated, a bit more awkwardly. "I didn't mean for that to sound as... snappish as it did."
"Oh no, no, don't worry!" Faye exclaimed, throwing up her hands expressively, separating their hands. "I understand, it's annoying that I kept asking so much, right? And after I broke into your house to get you to help me, too—"
"But I agreed to help you," Kliff insisted. "I'm not going to back down on my word."
His eyes went off in a different direction, unable to meet Faye's questioning gaze.
"And besides. It's important to you. Even if I, personally, don't understand... it's only natural that you care a lot about what's important to you."
He glanced back at Faye's face, causing their eyes to meet.
After a second, Faye smiled happily.
"You're really a nice guy, Kliff," she stated.
"S-slander," Kliff huffed, turning away sharply.
Faye laughed, causing a sharp pang of irritation to strike Kliff's chest.
"Liar, you're one of the nicest guys I know! What are you even trying to accomplish, lying so badly?"
Faye chased after him, and, well.
If he was walking slower than normal with her at his side, it was just because he was tired.
"Snacks from the gas station," Kliff mused as Faye gathered bags of potato chips and soda, "how romantic."
"...did you expect a five-course meal or something?" Faye asked. "Except for the diner, there's no other food place for miles."
"Hey, I'd love it if Forsyth handed me potato chips as a gift," Python, the lazy cashier added, feet up on the counter as he snacked on some of the store products.
"I just find it odd that the gas station attendant and the romance novel addict have the same idea for the ideal romantic gift," Kliff noted.
"I know what I like," Python said with a small shrug. "Not everyone needs diamonds and jewels. Me, I'm satisfied with a good dinner, lazy morning together, and listening to him prattle on about his day."
"Tell Forsyth we said hi!" Faye told him, smiling as she paid for the treats.
Python let out a vague sound of acceptance and waved them off.
Faye held the bag in her hands, walking ahead. Kliff trailed behind her, before she turned on him with an odd look on her face.
"By the way, where are we going?"
Kliff shrugged, answering with, "I was following you."
Faye hummed in thought, checking the wristwatch her grandfather got her for her birthday.
"I still have some time before granny needs me home to make dinner," Faye told him. "Do you want to walk around?"
"Sure," Kliff answered.
Faye smiled and asked him if there was anywhere he wanted to go, when he grabbed her hand.
It was an odd, impulsive act, one that both of them questioned.
Even though Kliff didn't have an actual answer, he found himself saying, "it's for your practice."
Faye grinned and thanked him brightly.
He felt oddly annoyed by that.
A few days later, Faye was back in his house, smiling and grinning.
"What is this?" he asked as he gestured to the container on his table.
"A lunch," she answered, and he swore he heard his mother laugh from the other room.
"Why?" Kliff questioned.
"Isn't it everyone's dream to have a homecooked meal made out of love?" she asked, pouting as he refused to take the gift.
"What century are you living in again?" Kliff retorted.
"Same one as you, Kliff," she said flatly.
"No, I'm pretty sure no one has given someone else a homecooked lunch as a romantic gesture in years. Possibly decades."
"Really?" Faye's expression turned pensive. "Granny said it would work like a charm..."
That was another unspoken rule of their group.
They never said it was odd that Faye lived with her grandparents. They never mentioned her parents, or her reluctance to go down a certain street alone.
Almost afraid of hurting her, yet unwilling to admit it, he made a show of how begrudging his acceptance of her offering was.
She rolled her eyes and laughed, saying she knew he was actually pretty happy. He rolled his eyes and groaned, saying that he would leave her behind if she didn't start walking to school with him.
Well, Kliff wasn't going to complain about the free lunch (that much)
He normally sat outside during lunch, reading a book and eating snacks with the other hand. Despite his quips, he really did appreciate the gift. The chips were perfect for eating outside.
The lunchbox, less so, but, well, it was a gift. And he would appreciate the change in routine.
It was odd, though.
The food was delicious. Incredibly so.
But with every bite, Kliff felt like something was incredibly wrong. Something offputting, something disturbing, something he couldn't quite place.
He managed to put his finger on what it was when he finished the meal and turned to reach for his book.
He caught sight of Alm, playing soccer with Tobin and Gray and the other boys as usual. Faye was seated nearby, cheering loudly for them.
The realization, no, the reminder, was like a jab to the ribs.
'It's not for me.'
One morning, Kliff woke up without the laughing jokes and casual threats to his person that he had grown accustomed to.
Honestly, he should have just fallen back asleep.
But somehow, he willed himself to pull on his clothes and head outside. He wondered what Faye would say if she realized he was capable of waking up on his own.
He passed by her house just as she was leaving.
Faye didn't notice him watching as she kissed her grandpa and grandma on the cheeks and promised to come home safe.
Her grandparents sure noticed, though, giving him an odd look before going inside.
"Oh!" Faye turned and spotted him, eyes widening. "Kliff! I..."
"Annual tradition, right?" he asked.
Faye nodded, eyes downcast.
Kliff wasn't sure why he spoke up, just like he wasn't sure why he grabbed her hand before, but the words shocked even himself.
"Can I come with you?"
Faye stilled, and he braced himself for a rejection, when she nodded once again.
He offered out his hand to her, and she took it gingerly.
"...sorry to make you skip school," Faye murmured as they went, keeping her eyes on the sidewalk.
"School's hell anyways," Kliff replied, unwilling to admit that he just... didn't want to leave her alone like this.
Faye let out a quiet chuckle, before sighing.
"I like it," Faye admitted. "Not because I like the work, or anything... but. It's routine. It's my life. I don't want to think about how, one day, I won't be able to see all your faces every day like I can today."
She was rambling, he noticed, as she guided them to a path they used to walk in their childhood.
"I don't want to think of the future," Faye said quickly. "I don't want to think that things will change just like that. I want to keep my friends, my family, I want to keep these peaceful days with them forever."
Paved sidewalk became trampled patches of dirt, stepped on so many times that grass no longer dared to grow there.
"I want a romance just like my grandparents, so their presence never leaves me. I want to throw myself into the 'now,' because the future scares me. I... don't want to not have everyone around anymore..."
They reached a spot where grass grew high (though it seemed so much taller in their youth), and white flowers laid there like scattered clouds in a verdant sky.
Faye knelt down to pick one, but simply held one and stared. She laughed, sounding too hollow for it.
"I guess this is pretty lame," she told him. "I don't know why I'm telling you this. I—"
"Do you regret telling me?" Kliff asked.
He felt like an outsider, an observer, standing just out of frame of her picturesque scene.
But then, Faye turned with tears in her eyes, and looked up at him.
"I just... I'm scared of what you think, I'm scared that I've said too much. I'm worried this will make everything awkward. I—"
Kliff didn't know what he was doing.
There was some part of him that said he shouldn't have stepped anywhere near her, shouldn't have touched her, shouldn't have even said he would help her so long ago.
But there was another part of him that looked upon her and wanted.
He wanted more of her smiles, more of her jokes, more of her time, wanted to make sure she wouldn't cry.
So he knelt next to her and grabbed three flowers.
"It's... I don't mind," Kliff admitted. "I don't mind being someone you trust. I might not understand now, but... I won't judge you for it."
Fiddling with the flower more out of anxiety than purpose, he removed the leaves from the stems.
"And if you need, if you want someone to stay with you... I'll be there, alright?"
Unable to take the atmosphere he had created any longer, Kliff thrust the flowers at her.
They fell on her lap, along with some tears.
"I'm- I'm sorry, I— I don't know why I'm crying, I—!"
"It's okay," Kliff promised.
It took a while for Faye to calm down and stop sobbing, but, when she was okay, she grabbed his hand and thanked him.
Then, they were off.
Passing by the diner she never wanted to enter, they reached the main road by noon, coming to a stop before a memorial of flowers on the sidewalk.
"It's nice to see you again, Mom, Dad," Faye greeted, separating her hand from Kliff's to set the pale flowers among the offerings.
He didn't listen. He didn't feel he had the right to hear what she said to her parents.
But he stood beside her as she spoke, and when her hand slipped back into his, he knew she was ready to go.
"...thank you for coming with me," Faye managed to say quietly. "Sometimes, it feels like it's too much to come here. Grandma and Grandpa used to come with me, but they're getting old..."
"I don't like coming here," Faye confessed. "I remember too much."
Squeezing her hand, he silently told her that it was alright.
"I remember being excited because it was my birthday a day before, I was finally ten and totally old enough to order off of the adult menu at the diner. I remember being confused when that loud sound happened, my parents tried to push me away and I remember how my dad screamed, and— and I remember, most of all, I remember feeling like I was about to die, when I heard Alm's voice."
She sighed deeply.
"He kept trying to help me and keep me from falling asleep. I... I kept focusing on his words, and I was alive."
A bitter laugh left her.
"Pretty dramatic way to fall for someone, right? Before then, he was just another one of the boys, but after, I..." she trailed off.
"Yeah, I know," Kliff said.
Faye's mouth settled into a hard line.
"I'll support you," Kliff went on. "No matter what."
With what sounded like a fond sigh, she quietly said, "thank you."
They didn't quite want to return to school yet, so they walked slowly.
Of course, then Kliff's stomach growled. Faye gave him a baffled expression.
"I forgot to eat breakfast," Kliff admitted casually. "I'll just eat when I get home."
"You can't just go hungry until then!" Faye insisted.
"I'll just get something from the gas station later," he reassured her, going to pat his pocket. And then he realized he forgot to bring any money with him. Drat.
"You can't live off of chips, either," Faye told him, before shifting her eyes. "I brought my wallet. I'll pay."
It took him a moment to realize what she meant.
And, when he realized it, he asked her, "are you sure?"
Faye nodded with a smile on her lips.
"I won't let my friend go hungry out of consideration for me. Come on."
Kliff averted his eyes, and then—
Faye paused, turning to stare at him in confusion.
"I can't keep making you pay for me," Kliff continued. "Next time, I'll get you something."
"Then, it's a promise."
(In the end, the meal isn't anywhere as heartwrenching as Faye imagined.
The tables have shifted from their places in her memory, the walls are painted a warmer shade of red than she remembers. A woman wrote a letter on a table, occasionally taking a sip from her coffee. It took a moment for the waiter to even notice their presence.
He introduced himself as Lukas. Lukas noted that it was the first time they entered the diner, though he saw Kliff pass by a lot. With a gentlemanly smile, he passed them two menus.
It's odd to remember that, so many years ago, Faye had been so happy for a chance to look at the adult's menu. The menu she was holding in her hands, no fuss made about it.
But... Just a glance over the table, and she remembered that she wasn't alone.
Though Kliff didn't see it, Faye looked over her menu at him and smiled.)
"You go down this street a lot?" Faye asked as they exited together.
He stared at her for a moment, and Faye shrugged.
"Just a bit curious, I guess, since the waiter mentioned it."
"I visit the bookstore," Kliff answered simply. "It's a few doors down."
Faye hummed in lieu of an immediate response, liking the sound of Kliff's voice free of sarcasm and quips.
"It's calm and quiet," he went on, glancing at her briefly. "It's peaceful. That's mostly why I go."
Faye didn't know how to answer to continue the calm mood they'd established. She had things she wanted to say, but she didn't know how or when to say them.
Maybe it was just the hope of hearing his voice more that made her suggest going to the bookstore.
"After all," she added, almost trying to hide her intentions, even though she didn't know what they were in the first place, "it's not like anything important's happening in school."
Kliff laughed and conceded her point.
'It's... it's nice,' Faye thought. 'Just being calm like this. Even if it's different, it's not... it's not bad.'
The next day, they got detention for skipping class.
But, it wasn't like they regretted it.
"You skipped class together," Gray stated.
"We could have skipped school separately, coincidentally on the same day," Kliff pointed out.
"My mom saw you holding hands in town!" Tobin exclaimed.
"Must have been someone else."
"Kliff," Alm piped up for the first time, a cross between bemusement and amusement on his face, "you're eating a lunch made by Faye."
Kliff froze. The others took it as a sign of defeat, but...
It was more utter mortification that even Alm had noticed. Alm, the one they were practicing so intently for. Alm, the one Faye desired so intently. Alm, who would soon take Kliff's place by her side.
Eyes downcast, he simply said, "go and ask her yourself."
Tobin and Gray exchanged a glance, then nodded. With a statement of "this isn't over, Kliff," the two left.
That left Alm and Kliff alone together.
Almost childishly, Kliff refused to answer.
Alm chuckled awkwardly in return.
"Sorry, know you're defensive from Gray and Tobin," he offered, even though that wasn't it. "I don't mean to tease or anything. To be honest, I'm more glad than anything."
Kliff paused right before taking a bite of Faye's cooking.
"It always felt a bit awkward, with Faye, I mean," Alm confessed. "None of us had any idea what she went through, or how to help her with that trauma... I'm glad that you're with her."
Alm shot him a wary smile, adding, "she seems more open now. Happier. You're really good for her, you know, Kliff?"
"Are you aware of how awkward it is to hear this from you of all people," Kliff asked, unable to stand it anymore.
"...uh, what?" Alm replied cluelessly.
Kliff clicked his tongue in irritation.
"Forget it. Pretend you haven't noticed anything. Should be easy, for you."
Alm just seemed baffled.
Kliff knew he should have acted more mature. He knew that Alm legitimately had no idea what he was talking about, that it was childish and petty to act so rude in retaliation for something the other boy wasn't even aware that he did. Hell, it was rather petty to try and take revenge for the act of not noticing someone had a crush on you in the first place.
But, damn it all, Kliff was in this for Faye. So she would be happy, so she could get what she wanted, so she could smile and thank him for his help and leave him behind.
He didn't need to be taunted like that. He already knew, knew that, no matter how well the others thought they suited each other—
Someone would be heartbroken.
He just prayed it wouldn't be her.
"You seem tense," Kliff noted, turning a page in his book as he sat on Faye's bed.
In a rare display of actual propriety, Faye had asked him if he wanted to visit instead of dragging him over. Kliff might not have been one to visit often, but he could appreciate a good miracle when he saw one, so he accepted.
Though, he didn't expect Faye to be acting so weird during it.
"Ahaha, sorry, just... you know, Gray and Tobin thought we were a couple," Faye said, trying to sound casual and failing.
"Ugh, ignore them," Kliff said scornfully.
"Don't worry," Kliff told her, setting a bookmark between pages of his novel. "Even if they think that, we both know what this relationship is."
Oblivious to the look on her face, he went on.
"It's an arrangement. I help you win over Alm, and that's that. Neither of us expects anything more."
Faye was silent, before saying,
"Yeah. That's right. You don't feel anything for me. You're just helping me."
"And you don't feel anything for me," Kliff agreed.
Faye laughed oddly.
Fiddling with one of her braids, she admitted, "I told them what you said. It took a while for them to believe me, but... they encouraged me to ask the guy I like on a date."
"Right," Kliff said with a nod. "Need to practice anything? Or encouragement?"
"Actually, I need to practice one thing."
"I need to practice kissing."
"You're not embarrassed or anything? No blushing, no... no nothing?"
"What, did you expect me to?" Kliff asked. "Like I said. It's just me helping you."
Truth be told, Kliff had actually been rather flustered at the suggestion. It was just that his inability to express himself clearly also applied to embarrassment.
"So?" he asked, setting his book to the side. "How are we doing this?"
"I was just thinking we'd... go for it, I guess."
Faye sheepishly went to sit with Kliff on the couch.
She almost seemed sad when he rested his hand against her cheeks.
He figured that a romantic like her would probably cherish her first kiss dearly. It probably saddened her to think that she would lose it to someone she didn't care for in that way.
"Don't worry," Kliff told her, talking to himself as much as he was to her. "It's just practice. It doesn't mean anything."
Faye nodded uncertainly.
And then she just gave up and went for it.
She went for it so hard, she accidentally bashed into his nose.
They drew away from each other in pain, until Kliff began laughing.
"You got a bit overexcited, didn't you?"
"Y-yeah," Faye confessed, averting her eyes as she blushed.
"It's fine if you take your time, you know. I'm not going anywhere."
Slower this time, Faye held his face in her hands, and carefully pressed their lips together.
She was shy, no doubt about it. It took a solid minute of her just pecking him on the lips at different angles repeatedly for her to get up the confidence needed to try and brush his lips with her tongue.
Of course, soon after, they accidentally smacked their teeth together.
It hurt like hell, honestly.
"We should probably stop," Kliff mumbled, "risk to the body and all."
'Yeah. Bad for the heart.'
In the end, it was as easy as he said.
A day later, she just walked up to Alm and asked him out.
That was it.
She met Kliff's eyes during it, and he simply looked back down at his book.
It was play of fools dancing to a crowd of laughing eyes.
The idiot oblivious to obvious affection, the pining moron, too optimistic to see the futility, too determined to give up...
And him, the biggest fool of the lot, for falling for a girl who'd never look his way.
"Hey," Tobin greeted him. Kliff spared the briefest of glances upwards, and saw both him and Gray standing over his reading spot.
"What," Kliff snapped.
"Woah, woah, don't be like that," Tobin huffed. "Just wanted to ask if you're okay. Since, well, you like Faye, right?"
"Tobin!" Gray immediately smacked the brunette for being so insensitive.
"What? It's true, isn't it?"
"Are you done yet," Kliff demanded impatiently.
"Give the man some space!" Gray hissed, before clearing his throat and addressing Kliff. "Maybe it's the last thing you need. Maybe this'll just annoy you more, but, well, I'm gonna break into Tobin's house tomorrow after school—"
"—for video games and snacks. You wanna tag along and be sarcastic?"
Kliff mulled over it for a few moments, then...
"Just remember, you asked for it."
"Alright!" Gray exclaimed.
"Uh, you won't actually be that bad, right? My little siblings'll be home, and if they copy you..."
"And..." Kliff said it so quietly, they barely heard him.
There was something off from the moment they left school together, Faye realized.
They walked on the road to the diner (the same one she walked with Kliff), but there was a space between them that Faye wasn't accustomed to. Her hand felt weirdly empty.
"It's pretty crowded. We should take care not to get separated," the line fell from her mouth before she could stop it.
Alm gave her an odd look, then looked around at the street. They were two of five people out and about at that hour.
"...okay?" he replied. "Stay close to me, then?"
"A-ah, sorry, it's just, a habit?" she blurted out quickly. "I... I always hold Kliff's hand when I'm going through here."
Alm nodded slowly, like he's not fully getting it, until his eyes widen suddenly.
"Oh! Oh. Okay!"
She wasn't entirely sure what he's thinking. But she didn't predict him taking her hand and guiding her through the streets.
His hand was too rough. He walked too briskly, and his hand felt so weird in her grip.
(Who was she comparing him to?)
There wasn't any snarky comment or sarcastic quip, either. In fact, Alm was acting pretty gentlemanly with her. She had no idea what he would do next.
(When did she stop making up scripts for him to follow?)
Alm kept looking at her like he had no idea how to approach her. He was too careful around her, like he thought she might break if he pushed too hard.
It was stiff, forced, unnatural. Like the hand in hers.
"I can't do this," Faye whispered.
"Faye?" Alm called out, worried.
She pulled her hand back, unable to withstand it any longer.
"I can't do this!" Faye exclaimed, not caring that she was in the middle of the sidewalk, not caring that others were watching, thinking only that, well.
She couldn't lie.
Not on the same road her parents died.
"I— I, I... I'm sorry. I asked you to come here, but... I liked you. A few weeks ago, I'd be ecstatic to be here with you, I'd be over the moon that I could just be with you, but...!"
"But Kliff?" Alm asked.
"I'm sorry. I was confused because I liked you for so long, and then Kliff... Tobin and Gray told me to see if I was still interested in you, but... I can't. I'm sorry."
A hand found its way on her shoulder, and Faye looked up to see Alm smiling at her.
"It's alright. I don't mind," Alm told her. "It's... probably a bit awkward that I never noticed, now that I think about it, though..."
"It is, yeah," Faye admitted with a chuckle. "Why do I keep falling for dumb guys who don't like me back?"
And then Alm's eyes widened.
"But he likes you?"
"Huh? But he—"
"No, no, you know that Kliff would almost never admit he cares for anyone," Alm stated. "I'm talking about what I saw, and he was pretty much more open with you than he is around the rest of us. Combined."
Faye was reluctant to believe it.
"I know it's weird coming from me. And it's scary, chasing after your dreams when you think you're not good enough, or think that you can't stop failing," Alm said with a hint of melancholy to his eyes. But then he smiled and brought hope to her heart.
"But I'm your friend. And I want to support you," he declared. "I can't guarantee that everything will work out, but I know that, if it's you, something like fear won't stop you."
Faye's eys widened.
"Yeah. Yeah! I, I can't just give up!"
She turned and began walking off.
"Wait, Faye, do you even know where he is right now—"
"No! But that's not going to stop me!"
Alm just laughed.
And then called Kliff's mom. Because she honestly deserved a warning if Faye was going to break down the door.
Tobin and Gray were sitting on the floor before Tobin's TV and game consoles when Kliff entered, or, to put it mildly, stumbled in like he was drunk. They didn't look away from their racing game, even when the telltale sound of Kliff falling facefirst into Tobin's couch and remaining there reached their ears.
"That girl," he practically moaned, "will be the death of me one day."
"Funny," Gray replied, shooting a shell at Tobin's cart and causing the brunette to swear loudly. "You didn't seem like you minded all that much."
"No, seriously," Gray continued, "you went along with holding her hand, eating her cooking, all that, right? But if I asked to see your homework for yesterday—"
"Not on my life."
"See?! That's exactly what I mean!" Gray exclaimed, turning to Kliff with a passion in his voice. He was completely oblivious to how he drove his cart into a lake while doing so. "You like her more than us!"
"Is that really the best way to put it?" Tobin asked, taking the chance to pass Gray's unmoving cart. "I'm pretty sure it's less that and more that Faye's on a whole other level compared to us. Y'know, potential girlfriend versus two buds. I'm not even sure if they're on the same measurement scale."
"There's no potential for anything," Kliff stated, sighing as he rolled onto his back. "Once she sets her heart on something, nothing'll stop her. She won't see anything else."
And that was when the sound of someone trying to bash down a door came to their ears. They all stilled, before Tobin went to answer it, since he knew he would never let one of his siblings answer to a potential burglar.
Kliff and Gray were both hoping that Tobin didn't die, when his voice reached their ears.
"F-Faye?! What the— Did you run all the way here?!"
"Yes!" the girl exclaimed through wheezing and panting.
"Okay?!" Tobin reacted, slightly terrified.
She pushed past him and stomped towards the living room, and Tobin didn't raise a hand to stop her.
"You!" Faye screamed, pointing at Kliff, still laying down on the couch.
"Yeah?" Kliff had no idea what was going on, but sat up to face her.
Gray had the decency to pause the game and mute the music for them. Tobin rushed to the living room to try and keep a fight from happening. Or anything embarrassing.
"Did your date with Alm go okay?" Kliff asked.
"No! Nowhere even close! It was more like a boat that crashed and burned before even leaving the port! We didn't even get to eat!"
"And... this is my fault," Kliff deduced.
"Sorry for getting mad with h—"
She grabbed him by the collar and yanked him towards her, before pressing their lips together.
Gray let out a low whistle, before Tobin went over and smacked him.
Faye let go of Kliff and shoved him back onto the couch. He stared dumbly up at her as she began to rant.
"Do you even know why it didn't work out?! No! So shut up and don't apologize and listen!" She started off angrily.
She began to pace in front of the couch, hands twitching with nervous energy.
"It didn't work out, because, the entire time, I was thinking of you! Your hand and your dumb sarcasm and your dumb face and your dumb, dumb you-ness! I don't know how you did it! But you made me fall for you! And you didn't notice, because you were being nice and telling me to go after the guy I liked!"
She practically pivoted in his direction, stomping her foot down and furiously pointing at him.
"Well, guess what?! The guy I like is you! I don't need a perfect, fairytale romance, I don't need to copy my grandparents, as long as it's you! That's how I feel! What'll you do now, you cute, oblivious bastard?!"
Faye panted heavily, adrenaline coursing through her veins.
Everyone was stunned and didn't really know how to respond, except for Gray. Gray was recording everything.
"Or, uh, you could... you can reject me now," Faye added, turning bright red with mortification.
Faye flinched, when Kliff continued and said, "I don't feel like rejecting you."
"Wh-wh—" Faye could hardly believe the words.
"Guess what? The girl I like is you," Kliff echoed with a wry grin, though he was blushing too.
"Oh my god, this is so embarrassing," Tobin whispered.
"Shut up, Tobin," Gray snapped.
Faye processed the information for a solid ten seconds, then began screaming in delight.
Tobin quickly ordered Kliff to shut her up before his siblings came down and copied her. Gray echoed that request, and, well.
It turned out that three kisses were plenty enough practice for a quick learner like Kliff.