A Kiss Away
“So then I heard Julia saying that she wanted to ask you, and I just couldn’t wait any longer. I had to do this now, you know?” Natalie said, gazing up at Dimitri with big, caramel-colored, dove-like eyes. Dimitri tilted the corners of his mouth up and nodded to show he was listening.
“So…do you want to go to the Winter Ball with me?” She bit her lip.
He regarded her slowly. Natalie was at least a foot shorter than him, with fire-orange hair tumbling in thick curls over her shoulders. Cinnamon freckles were splattered over her nose and cheeks like an abstract painting. Her books—geometry, US History, and a purple folder—were hugged tightly to the chest of her peach, short-sleeved shirt. Natalie was cute; not anything too incredulous, but cute, with an almost decent personality. Maybe she wouldn’t be the best company, but she’d make an excellent distraction. Her piping voice and continuous repetition of what she was explaining would be easy to tune in and out of without missing a thing. Dimitri wouldn’t have to worry about the usual girl-response when he’d get caught not listening, not that there were very many girls he’d want to at least pretend to listen to. In fact, there wasn’t even a many. There was one, and he’d listen to her anytime (if he only could) even if she was talking about which nail polish went better with her eyes and there was a Celtics vs. Lakers game on right behind her. But she wasn’t an option at the moment; Natalie was. What the heck. He smiled again. “Sure.”
Dimitri turned to his locker and worked the combination. Natalie’s answering smile was brighter than the sun. “Really?”
“Ohmygosh,” she giggled and sort of bounced up and down. “I so did not think you’d say yes. I mean, Stephanie said you wouldn’t, but I usually ignore her anyway. But you and Vittoire, like, just broke up like a month ago, and I thought that maybe it’d be too soon. But then Vittoire seems to have moved on, so I thought you’d have too. Ohmygosh! This is so exciting!”
Dimitri’s smile faltered and he quickly swung the grey metal door open to hide the grimace. An ice-cold, white-hot fire flared up somewhere deep between his ribs at the thought of his ex. The one. It sent ice splinters into his lungs and molten lava down his spine. He took a quick, suffocated breath as the five-minute warning bell chimed. He shut the door, and, without looking at her, mumbled, “I’ve got to get to class. I’ll see you later.”
“Okay, but before you go, Dimitri—will you find me at lunch?”
“Yeah,” he glanced at her beaming face and then froze as his eyes focused on something behind her. Two teenagers were making out. A guy in a red t-shirt, with a dark buzz-cut and a muscular build had a girl pressed entirely against the wall. A girl with water-fallish blonde hair that reached past her elbows, long, sun kissed limbs and the most beautiful smile in world’s history. Although her face was obscured by the other guy’s, Dimitri knew her eyes would be clearer than the ocean at dawn. It was a girl he’d come to recognize all too well. Dimitri almost choked and a strangled croak escaped his throat.
His jaw opened and shut. He swallowed, forgetting how to move his legs or his eyes. Or any other muscle in his body, really.
“Wha—“ Natalie began, looking over her shoulder. “Oh.”
Dimitri watched Vittoire moving her face with the boy’s, his heart pumping useless blood loudly in his veins. They were way too close, way too private in public. He really did not want to see any more, but he couldn’t look away. Thankfully, a teacher spotted the couple and stomped over to them. He began yelling loud, jumbled words that even Dimitri could hear, despite the distance. The two parted guiltily and the guy loped away, instantly lost in the crowd. Vittoire still leaned against the wall, taking the full onslaught of the teacher’s rage. He suddenly glanced up at Dimitri.
“Hey! Nothing to see here! Get to class!”
Dimitri’s eyes then met Vittoire’s and the fire suddenly reared up again, charring his bones.
“Okay, so I’ll see you later then?” Natalie asked, tip-toeing to give him a peck on the cheek. She scurried away, but Dimitri barely noticed. He hardly even felt the kiss, still numb from the memory of Vittoire’s display. Regardless of the searing pain it brought him, Dimitri couldn’t stop replaying the scene as he slumped to class.
Vittoire paced her steps with her gum. Step, chew, step, chew. She could do this. Step, chew, step, chew. Her heart was beating so loudly it almost drowned out the babble of other students brushing past her; if it were to take place in a drum competition, it’d go home with the grand prize. She was almost there, and infinitely relieved to see Dimitri at his locker. She had no idea what she would’ve done if he hadn’t been there; she needed to talk to him now. While she still had a tiny ounce of confidence.As she neared closer, though, she was surprised by a shorter person at his side. Vittoire could immediately tell that it was Natalie, recognizing her by her unique red hair. Natalie was using flirty body language to get Dimitri’s attention; running fingers through her wild hair, resting her thumbs in her front pockets, leaning forward. Dimitri looked like he just wanted to get away.
Poor Dimitri, Vittoire sympathized, knowing all too well that Natalie was the type of girl that would get on his nerves.
The unfortunate guy looked bored out of his mind. He nodded at Natalie and turned his attention onto his locker. The corners of his mouth were tilted upward, and might’ve passed as a genuine smile—if Vittoire hadn’t known his face so well. It was his fake smile, one he used when he really couldn’t care less. She quickened her steps and then halted unexpectedly. Natalie suddenly looked way too happy. Why… Oh, no.
As if to make it any worse, Natalie did some sort of joy-hop in place.
Vittoire gasped as a steel-toed boot somewhere inside her chest kicked her heart like a soccer ball, permanently bruising it.
Why Natalie? Something in her shrieked.
A large figure abruptly appeared in her line of sight. He had a bright red cotton t-shirt on, tightly fitted to his over-worked for muscles. Dark eyes sought out hers and she looked up at Scott.
“So have you decided on an answer yet?” He said.
Vittoire looked past him at Dimitri again, still talking with Natalie. He was digging in his locker now, and Natalie took the opportunity of him not looking at her to move closer to him. Clutching fury rippled through Vittoire and rage swelled in her throat. Dimitri apparently had a date, so why couldn’t she?
“Yes, I will go with you to the Winter Ball” Vittoire said, slightly wincing at her still-noticeable French accent. She’d only moved to the States barely over two years ago. Her English was still sometimes a bit sketchy.
Scott grinned. “Great.”
Before she could fully react, Scott had her back pressed hard against the cool wall with his body. The cold tile on her bare arms made her shiver, and as she tried to protest his lips collided with hers. He bit her bottom lip, and her mouth opened with a gasp. Completely appalled, all Vittoire could do was let his tongue mingle with hers behind her teeth in a cold, wet way. His breath smelled like spicy cinnamon gum, which was, coincidently, the flavor she liked least. His mouth tasted like saliva. Finally, she got a hold of her senses and tried pushing him away. But with the way he was smashed against her, he mistook her intentions and deepened his force. His teeth gnashed against her front two in his eagerness. She heard a few kids snickering, and then someone was shouting in her ear. Scott quickly, finally, parted.
“There is no tolerance of PDA in this school!” The teacher spewed. “What are your names?” Scott mumbled something unintelligible, and then disappeared in a crowd of scattering students. The teacher glared after him before turning back to Vittoire. “He will be dealt with later. Your name, miss?”
“Uh, Vittoire LeClair, monsieur.” She wiped the back of her hand over her mouth to rid the smeared lip gloss and spit.
He narrowed his eyes while writing that down. “Huh. Are you an exchange student?”
“Huh. Well, Miss LeClair, you will certainly hear more from the administration in response to your…display.”
“Tell it to the detention supervisor.” He suddenly whipped his head around. “Hey! Nothing to see here! Get to class!”
Vittoire followed the direction of his frown and gasped. Dimitri stared at her with eyes full of disbelief, hurt, and anger so deep her eyelids felt bruised just from seeing it. Natalie was still at his hip, with—shock, shock—a smirk on her freckled face. She quickly stood up on her tip-toes to kiss him on the lower part of his jaw—she couldn’t reach his cheek—and then was gone. Dimitri ignored her, without even a twitch, as he still looked at Vittoire. She stepped hesitantly forward, still shaken by his expression. His face instantly hardened until it was unreadable, and he, too, walked away.
Dimitri shut his locker with more force than necessary, still angry, still in a distant reality. Still haunted by that morning’s event. The girl he loved publically in the arms of another? He had more than enough reason to be upset. He could be excused an unhappy demeanor for the rest of the week, however the bad mood was already fading. He shallowly suspected it was because he’d never been one for holding grudges, but deep down knew it was because he could forgive Vittoire anything. Why? Because he loved her, of course. He always would.
Although he couldn’t picture mentioning that now—not after what happened.
He was pretty certain from almost the first moment they spoke, seemingly so long ago. In reality, it hadn’t even been two years ago. She’d been a new student, a foreign person to the ways of American teenagers. Wearing a blue dress one would expect on a model (maybe); she was shy with an equal balance of strength. The shyness would appear when she talked to anyone; her eyes would seek comfort from the floor and her replies would be quick. The strength showed when she walked; her head would be high, back straighter than a princess’, and she’d glide with the grace of a dancer. Those had been the two details that’d attracted him to her, and the revelation that she was a musician as well was what had sealed the deal.Dimitri sighed, missing the past.
He was on the brink of entering the food courts, called such because instead of an actual cafeteria, it was just an extra large hallway with food lines and tables, when someone shoved him. He stumbled backward and blinked at his friend Mathew’s ecstatic expression.
“Dude, you are not going to believe this.”
Dimitri ran a hand through his short, black hair. “What?”
“I just got a response. They want Pleasant Malevolence to play at the Winter Ball. We have a gig!”
“No way,” He exchanged a high five with Mathew. “That’s great! How’d you make that happen?” Knowing Mathew, he’d probably committed a ton of bribery.
“All I did was give them some of our CD’s,” he shrugged. “And since they have such a low budget this year, we made the cut.”
“Cool,” It’d be much better than spending the entire dance with some girl like Natalie. They’d been looking for an audience ever since the band had formed.
“Yeah, and I convinced Tyrner to let us use the band room later on for rehearsal. Right now you’re going to need it, because you’re writing our new song.” Tyrner was the band instructor, a balding man with a curt voice.
Dimitri sighed. “Why do I have to write a new song? No one’s heard the ones we already have.”
“The dance committee has.”
He rolled his eyes. “Whatever. Fine. But it can wait until tomorrow; I’m not in the mood to write anything today.”
Mathew nodded. “Right. I heard what happened with Vittoire and Scott Martin. Brutal. She wanted me to talk to you, but since guys don’t do that, I’m just going to ask if you’re good and you’re going to say yes and I’ll be on my way. So you’re good?” Mathew was a mutual friend between Dimitri and Vittoire, so it didn’t surprise Dimitri that he’d already talked to her.
Dimitri laughed. “Yeah, there’s your cue.”
Mathew slapped his shoulder. “Alright, man. I’ll catch you later.”
Dimitri retrieved his food and sat down at an empty table, not wanting the presence of others. Nevertheless, he was instantly joined by Natalie.
“I thought you said you’d find me.” She whined.
“I forgot,” he mumbled. “Besides, you seemed to have found me easy enough.”
“Yeah, that’s because I’ve been watching for you.” She settled in the plastic seat next to his and began shifting a fork through her salad. “So I wanted to talk about the dance. You’re going to pick me up right? Because I am not getting my own ride. And I was thinking that we should coordinate a bit. Not too much so that it looks like we did, but enough so I’m not wearing, like, a pink dress and you’re in a blue shirt or whatever. So maybe you should just wear something black. It goes with everything and would flatter both you and me.” She tapped her fork against her lips. “Maybe I’ll wear black too. Who cares if we match? It’ll just be better that way. Oh, and you can’t forget to get me a corsage. I dated this guy once who did. It was so embarrassing. I like pink flowers.”
“About that. I can’t go with you.” He took a sip of his water.
“Why not?” She glared, flaring her nostrils. It made her look like a bull ready to charge, Dimitri noticed. “Is this about Vittoire?”
“No. My band is supposed to perform.”
“I thought that Vittoire was in your band.”
“Yeah, was. She quit a while ago.” Dimitri snapped.
“Well why couldn’t you have told me all of this earlier?”
“Because I just found out. Why are you interrogating me? I can’t go. Period. It’s not some way to hook back up with my ex. Just get over it.”Although Dimitri thought Natalie should have expected the harshness in his voice from her attitude, she obviously didn’t. Tears sparked in her eyes and she glared at him.
“Whatever. Just so you know, I only really asked you because I felt sorry for you. But my pity is gone now.” She shoved her chair out and stalked off, her spotless shoes smacking on the linoleum.
“Great,” Dimitri muttered and continued his lunch. After only a few minutes, another figure appeared at his table. He spotted the jeans and fuzzy white boots in his peripheral sight, and glanced up. Vittoire stood with her hands hanging limply at her sides and blond hair tucked behind her ears, something he used to do for her. For a brief second, he wondered meekly if it’d been Scott’s doing, and then brushed the thought away. He noticed her turquoise shirt matched her eyes almost exactly. “We need to talk.” She said.
Struggling to keep his expression indifferent, Dimitri shrugged. “Okay.”
He glanced around the empty table. “We are alone.”
She sighed, exasperated. “You know what I mean.”
“No, I don’t think I do.”
“Please,” she said slowly. “Can we talk where there’s not an audience?”
“Lead the way.”
He followed Vittoire out of the babble of hungry people to an empty hallway. Leaning against a wall with crossed arms, he studied her. His eyes were masked with cold, hard stone. She watched him too, although she wasn’t as good at disguising her emotions. Moisture threatened to drop from the edges of her long eyelashes. It took everything he had to keep himself from wiping away those tears.
“So Matt told me you guys are playing at the dance?”
She wrung her hands together. “I guess you will not be going to the dance with anyone then.”
There was a long silence before Vittoire cleared her throat and tried again. “I did notknow you guys were still performing as a band.”
Dimitri frowned. “What? You think that just because you quit, we’d stop playing?”
“The band was there before you joined, and it’s going to remain there after you’ve quit.”
“I know that. But Dimitri, I…I miss playing with you.” Her voice faltered on the very last word.
Dimitri tried swallowing past the knot in his throat. His voice was barely above a hoarse whisper. “Then you shouldn’t have left.”
“I wish I could change the way things happened.”
“But you can’t, and why would you? You seemed happy enough in Scott’s arms.”
She winced. “He kissed me!”
“You didn’t stop him.”
“I was trying to the whole time! Dimitri, you know I am not like that!”
“Yes! And what about you—you seemed perfectly at ease talking to Natalie!” Her voice was peaking to a shriek.
“Maybe I was! You shouldn’t care!”
“I do though, and I know you do to too.”
“Of course I do!” Dimitri slammed his hand into a locker, swearing. The sounds echoed off the walls. “Do you think I ever stopped?”
“Do you think I did either?” she whispered, hugging her stomach and crying openly now. Vittoire’s knees wobbled and she fell against the wall.
Dimitri took a step forward, hesitant. One part of him was still furious, hurt, from Vittoire. And another wanted to wrap her thin body in his arms and hold her close. He stepped toward her again until she was less than a foot away. Vittoire blinked up at him, and for a few never-ending moments they just gazed at each other. Finally Dimitri reached up and caressed her cheek. His thumb came away wet.
“It’s over between us, Vittoire. I really wish it weren’t, but I can’t change everything. You can’t either.” He said. Then he walked away.
After a few moments of silent agony, his heart twisting and stretching itself in a million different directions, Dimitri realized he was headed toward the band room. Maybe he’d write after all.
Vittoire lasted about two seconds after he was gone until the sobs ripped themselves from her chest. Her knees knocked into each other and her head hit the wall as she collapsed on the ground. It’s over between us, Vittoire.
How could she be so stupid?
I really wish it weren’t—
Why hadn’t she just apologized like she’d planned?
—but it is.
Of course it is.
For several minutes longer, she cried tears through the arms of her shirt. When her butt became numb from sitting on the floor, she rubbed her eyes, forgetting about the makeup she’d applied earlier, and glanced at the red forbidding numbers on the digital clock hanging above the lockers. There were only five more minutes left until the lunch period ended. Vittoire was still crying so she gritted her teeth and caught the teardrops lingering on her chin. Her blurry eyes focused on a green sign that hosted a good idea, and she slumped into the restroom.
She went straight to the mirror above the white gleaming sinks, shocked by the image that appeared back to her and glad no one else had seen it. Mascara and eyeliner were smeared around her eyes as if they’d been on for days. Black streaks from her tears went all the way down her cheeks, which were bright red. No doubt once she’d cleaned off all the ruined makeup, her eyes would be puffy and bloodshot. Blond hair, knotted and frizzed, framed her face. Embarrassed, she held her hand under the shiny faucet until the motion detector sensed it and scrubbed at her face with warm water. Completely distracted, and still sniffling herself, Vittoire failed to hear the sobs echoing out of the last blue stall on the right until she let the water shut off.
Dabbing at her face with a paper towel, she walked over to it.
“Hello? Are you alright?” She asked, knocking on the door.
A few seconds passed and then the lock unlatched with a click. The door opened slowly to reveal a red faced, puffy-eyed Natalie. She glared up at Vittoire as she brushed by her to the sinks. “What do you want?”
Vittoire squeezed her eyes shut with regret, and then turned toward Natalie, who was splashing water on her cheeks. “Oh, I apologize for showing some—how do you say it—eh, courtesy?”
“Eh, courtesy?” Natalie mimicked, overplaying the French accent. “Don’t you think you’ve done enough? I don’t need your courtesy too.” Vittoire crossed her arms.
“What do you mean?” She snapped.
“Oh, don’t you know? You, a new student, already have the school wrapped around your manicured nails because you have blonde hair and long legs. Perfect Vittoire.” She faced Vittoire, fuming. “You’ve ruined everything for me, even my chance at Dimitri! You rancid bitch!”
Vittoire’s jaw dropped. “Excusez-moi? I didn’t do anything to you! You’re the one trying to steal my boyfriend!”
“F-Y-I, he’s not your boyfriend anymore!”
“And he’ll never be yours!”
Whatever remark Natalie had was cut off by the electronic bell. She glowered at Vittoire even from the back of her head as she stalked out the door. “Saved By the Bell,” she hissed, just as it swung shut behind her.
Although Vittoire had no idea what the reference was—American culture was still so strange—the threat was unhidden. After clenching her teeth a lot and dong a quick reapplication of her eyeliner and powder, she left wearily for her algebra class. It was the only class she shared with Dimitri.
He was already in his seat when she arrived. Vittoire hesitated by the doorway, determining which path to take to her seat, right behind Dimitri’s. He was bent over his desk, writing something. If she went around the front of the classroom, maybe she’d be able to get him to look at her. Then again, what if he, like, glared? Or what if he didn’t? What if he just looked right through her? Vittoire couldn’t bare that. She decided to walk around the back, the safer route. She slid into her seat, still warm from the previous occupant, slowly. Dimitri’s shoulders stiffened but he didn’t turn around.
She tried to look over his shoulder, as inconspicuously as possible, to get a glimpse of what he was scribbling away at. All she could see was the tip of a college-ruled lined paper with the word ‘bruised’ scrawled in blue ink. She sat back in her chair and pulled out her own piece of paper for notes. Was he writing a new song?
The teacher walked in then, shooing loitering students to their seats. Dimitri quickly shut whatever he was writing and opened up a different notebook. In the process, his elbow knocked the one he’d just been using onto the floor. It landed upside down halfway under Vittoire’s desk. Dimitri didn’t seem to notice, so she used her foot to slide it in arms reach and picked it up. The cover was navy blue, faded, torn, and familiar. Ah, so he was writing a new song. She’d bought him the notebook, specifically for that purpose. With a surge of excitement and sadness, Vittoire opened the it to the very last page with writing. Dimitri always wrote in order of the pages, just as he always wrote in ink. She ran her fingers over the words tenderly. They were bold and indented into the paper, probably a sign that he was still upset with her. The song was good, maybe one of his best yet. There were no notes to go along with it, but she could almost hear the tune as she rolled the song around in her mind. Vittoire’s eyes stung when one thought struck her: the song was about her.
So this was how he felt? He really did still care.
Of course I do!Do you think I ever stopped?
She swallowed thickly and closed her eyes at harboring tears. Her eyes were probably still red from crying before. She did not want people to think she was the type of girl that cried this much. She was stronger than that. After a long, shuddering breath, she opened her eyes. The teacher was still going over the quadratic formula. Dimitri was still facing the front in his seat. People were still scrambling down their notes. No one had noticed her near-breakdown.
When class finally ended, both of Vittoire’s palms bore four crescent marks from her fingernails. She scooped up her stuff and stood before Dimitri could. He had his notebooks and textbook in a pile on his desk, but was still searching for something. She held it out to him. “You dropped this.” This time her voice was not only thick with an accent, but also with the just-before-the-tears sound.
A muscle in his jaw moved and his eyes met hers. “You didn’t read it?”
Vittoire wavered, unsure how to answer. Tell the truth, and he might be angry. Don’t tell the truth, and it’d be a lie. She’d made a promise a while ago never to lie to him. Finally, she nodded.
His eyes tightened and he took the notebook gingerly. Without any other words, he grabbed his things with his right arm and walked out of the classroom. She stared at his empty seat for a moment and then followed.
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