Sterling watched with a smile on his face as the show ended. Brittany had been amazing and he was completely surprised to see her turn into an entirely different person right before his eyes. Her dramatic scene had been the best, by far, out of any of the other performances. As the lights came up, he stood up and looked around, slightly embarrassed he had shown up at all. When he first read Brittany's text, he immediately tried to come up with an excuse as to why he couldn't go. But no excuse was going to make him feel any better and so he wrote back, promising to be there and telling her to look for him after the show.
He was actually looking forward to praising Brittany for her performance when he heard a familiar laugh. His eyes immediately scanned the rest of the crowd and came to rest on who he still considered to be the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She hadn't changed much. Her hair was long and waving down her back. Her skin was pale but tinted with a slight blush as she laughed with her roommates. But she looked so thin and breakable. Was it possible she had lost weight? She had always been thin but now she looked as if a small gust of wind might blow her over. He stared, worried for the girl he still loved, not being able to force his gaze from her, and then, as if she could sense him watching her, she looked over her shoulder and their eyes met. Sterling couldn't breathe, he couldn't react, he could only watch as Laila's face fell into immediate confusion and she looked away quickly.
"Shit," he swore to himself as he started walking towards her. He had to talk to her. He had to be near her, even if it was just long enough for her to tell him to back off. He could see Laila's body was tense as he came up the isle to where she had been standing. Piper was glancing nervously between her roommate and her boyfriend's brother as if she was waiting for something terrible to happen. Luanne pretended not to notice anything and tried to distract Laila with a story.
"Hi," Sterling said, completely nervous as he stood behind Laila.
She looked at the ground and reached for Piper who offered her arm for support.
"Hey, Sterling," Piper said softly. "How are you?"
"I'm all right," he lied. At the moment he was terrified, excited and practically sick to his stomach. "How are you girls doing?"
"Fine," Piper answered for the entire group and looked quickly down at Laila who had lifted her head and was nervously pushing her hair behind her ears. She didn't do that when she was angry, only when she was nervous. This gave Sterling hope.
"Laila, can I please talk to you?"
He watched as she looked up at Piper who gave her that look that said 'only if you really want to,' and then as she slowly nodded her head.
"We'll wait for you outside," Luanne said slowly, checking to see if Laila understood and then walking with Piper toward the door.
Laila took a step back but turned around, her eyes seeming to take an eternity to meet his. She looked so scared, so fragile that it nearly broke Sterling's heart as he realized he was mostly to blame for her current state of misery. She looked up at him with her sad eyes, waiting for him to speak.
"How have you been?" He asked, not knowing where else to start.
"I've been okay," she said, her voice soft and scared. "You?"
"I've been okay," he concurred. "I've missed you."
"Sterling, please don't," she pleaded, looking at the ground between their feet. She wasn't ready for this. She doubted she would ever be ready for this conversation.
"Don't what, Laila? I've been miserable without you."
"I can't do this," Laila whispered and started to turn away from him.
But Sterling was too quick for her and caught her by the arm. "Please talk to me. Look, I'm sorry to just drop all this on you, but I need to hear it from you, I need to know why this ended." His fingers wrapped all the way around her arm, even over the thick fabric of her sweater. Why hadn't she been taking care of herself? Was this a guilty reaction or a defense mechanism to distract herself from the pain of breaking up?
"Do you know how hard this is for me?" Laila asked, taking him completely by surprise. "I wasn't expecting to see you and now you're here and you're touching me and I just can't handle it."
Sterling dropped his hand. "Do you know how hard it is for me, standing here and not being able to touch you?"
Laila's violet eyes flickered to his and they stared at each other for a long moment. She hadn't forgotten how striking his eyes were, his dark blue one and the light green one baring into hers as if she was all he could see. It wasn't going to get any easier for her if she left now. This encounter could haunt her and she knew she had to at least make an effort.
"Okay," she finally said. "Let's talk."
Sterling cracked a small smile and she could see his chest rise and fall in a heavy sigh of relief. "I don't even know where to start now."
Laila smiled as well. "How are classes going?" She offered the question as a distraction more than actual curiosity. She could barely form a coherent sentence, much less a rational thought.
"Fine. My chemistry final is going to be horrible. You?"
Laila shrugged. "I'm feeling pretty good about my history class."
"You liked that one," Sterling observed and Laila nodded, suddenly struck with a sickening thought.
"What are you doing here? I mean, why are you here tonight?" Laila had seen the blonde with the curly hair from the party and instantly recognized her. She had been in Nikki's group and had been one of the best ones up on stage.
Sterling shuffled his feet awkwardly. "I was invited."
"Oh," Laila looked at the ground and tried not to let him see the tears fill her eyes. There was, of course, no reason that Sterling shouldn't have moved on. It had been long enough, she supposed, and even though it was heartbreaking, she knew she had no right to expect him to still be in love with her.
Sterling could see Laila putting the pieces together and he cringed as he realized what she must be thinking. The tears in her eyes she was trying so hard to hide were upsetting, to say the least, but who was she to be upset about another girl? Hadn't she been the one who moved on to Will only weeks after they had broken up?
"We aren't together or anything," Sterling stumbled over his words. "Where's Will?" He watched as Laila flinched at the name and his lips twitched into a small smile.
"I don't know." Laila looked up at him with a serious look on her face. "You were right about him."
Sterling's brow creased and he reached for her again, his hand softer on her arm this time. "He hasn't tried anything, has he?"
Laila shook her head and a sly smile came to her lips. Her arm relaxed under Sterling's touch and she took a slight step toward him. "He's just so annoying. He asks so many questions and can't take a hint. I don't know how many times I have told him…well, it doesn't matter."
Sterling smiled down at her. "What are you going to do about him?"
"I don't know," Laila laughed. "I don't know how else to explain it to him that it's just never going to happen."
"I could kick his ass if you wanted me to," Sterling teased her. It felt strange, speaking to Laila about things he wasn't involved in. He had been part of every aspect of her life and it was uncomfortable thinking about all the things he had missed during their time apart.
Laila laughed. "I'll think about it."
Sterling stared down at her, wanting more than anything to pull her into his arms and feel her soft body against his chest. But he resisted, knowing he needed to take things slow if he wanted to ever see her again. They were skating on thin ice and he didn't want to risk breaking it.
"Are you going to that party with Piper tomorrow?" He asked hopefully.
"I was planning on it."
"Alistair told me about it. That's the only reason I knew…"
"You should come," Laila said quickly. Sterling had said he wasn't with the girl from the party but she couldn't imagine they were just friends. Probably just as Sterling couldn't imagine Laila and Will being just friends. But still, his statement had given her hope and as she looked up at him, she felt the same butterflies she had felt the first time they had danced together. His hand was still on her arm, gently holding her and it was quickly causing her to forget why she was supposed to be angry at him, why he was supposed to be angry at her.
"Are you sure? I don't want to ruin your night."
"I'm sure. There's a lot more to talk about."
Sterling nodded in agreement and squeezed her arm. "I'll see you there?"
"I'll see you tomorrow," Laila confirmed and smiled at him, her confidence starting to show, her eyes soft and loving as they had always been.
"Bye," he nearly whispered, struggling against an urge to kiss her.
"Bye," she said and turned around.
Sterling watched her leave, a giddiness filling his stomach as he thought about tomorrow. He stood there, hopeful for the first time in over a month, until the doors had closed behind her. It wasn't until then that he heard a voice from behind him.
"Hey," Brittany said, a knowing smile in her voice and eyes.
"Hey, yourself," Sterling smiled at her. "You were great up there."
"Thanks," she blushed but held his gaze.
"Thanks for inviting me, Brittany. This was exactly what I needed," Sterling said, hoping she hadn't witnessed what had happened between him and his ex-girlfriend.
"I'm glad you enjoyed it," she answered, her smile growing. "Thank you for showing up."
"So, I guess a few of us are going to go celebrate. It's nothing big, mostly just the students from the class, but you are more than welcome to join us," Brittany offered, hoping Sterling would turn her down.
"I think I'm going to pass tonight. I appreciate the invite, though."
Brittany shrugged but smiled at him. "I'll call you later?"
"Sure," Sterling smiled back at her. "Have fun tonight. You deserve it."
"Bye," Brittany said with a smile and a wave.
Sterling watched as the other blonde in his life walked away. He knew that he would undoubtedly run into Brittany around campus and at parties, that was to be expected. But he couldn't help but feel as if this were the last time he would really talk to her, the last time they would pretend to want something they both knew wouldn't work. He had seen the relief in her eyes when he turned down her offer, as much as she had tried to hide it. Was she simply being a good friend, taking care of him in his miserable state? He could never be certain of her motives, the girl was a complete enigma to him. But he smiled as he walked home that night. If it hadn't been for Brittany and her invitation, he may have never been close enough to Laila to talk to her.
A/N: Check out the character pics if you have time :)