Abel approached Lila carefully. He knew that she was still unsure about their friendship, and so he decided to play everything cool and ‘shut his mouth’ as Lila had suggested. For now, he would just be a normal teenage boy.
Candice noticed him first, and nudged Lila in the side to warn her that he was advancing them. Lila spun around. “Oh, hey Abel.” Candice raised her eyebrows and looked at Lila in confusion. “Candice, this is Abel. Logan’s brother.” Candice cocked her head to the side.
“Have I seen you around before? You seem familiar.” Abel shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets.
“You might’ve seen me in the hallway.” She seemed to think about it for a moment.
“Yeah, probably.” Abel turned to Lila.
“How are you today? Feeling better?” Lila nodded and rocked back on her heels awkwardly, letting the air between them turn silent. Candice looked at Lila.
“Yeah, you scared me at lun--” Then she looked at Abel. “How did you know Lila wasn’t feeling well?”
“Lila and I had dinner Saturday--” Lila gestured at Abel to stop, but it was already too late. Candice looked hurt.
“You told me you were going to see your pastor.”
“I did,” she said. “But then Abel offered to buy me dinner.”
“Oh...” Candice pursed her lips. “Well you should’ve at least called me.”
“You left your leftovers in the car,” Abel said to Lila, ignoring Candice completely.
“You can go ahead and eat them,” Lila offered. “It’d be a bother to come pick up food. Besides, you paid for it.”
“Do you have my jacket?” Lila turned around and pulled something from her locker.
“Here.” She handed Abel the gray coat, looking pained to part with it. “It was really warm.” Candice was in utter shock. She hadn’t even known where Abel came from in the first place, and here he was, buddying up with her best friend.
“I’m going to class,” Candice said, backing away. “See you Lila.”
“Bye!” She called, giving a measly wave. She turned back to Abel.
“I have a feeling she doesn’t like me,” Abel jibed with a giddy grin. Lila shrugged and grabbed her binder, shutting her locker in one quick movement.
“I have to get to class.”
“Actually...” He smiled. “I was hoping you’d like to go somewhere with me?” Lila raised her eyebrows.
“You mean skip school? No way. I have perfect attendance.” He smirked.
“My mother is friends with the secretary. I’m sure I could pull a few strings and it will never show up on the record.” Lila scoffed.
“I doubt that’s true.”
“Go to class, sign out to go to the bathroom, and I’ll come get you. I guarantee it’ll never show up. I’ll bring you to office so you can ask the secretary if you’re still having doubts.” Lila crossed her arms.
“Fine.” He smiled and folded his hands, stretching out his arms. Lila wondered if he noticed how close his hands were to her chest. She stepped back and gave him a look of doubt. “You sure this will work?” He nodded and pursed his lips.
“Okay then, I’ll see you soon.”
Lila crept out of the bathroom, her eyes frantically searching for Abel. He took his good time walking down the hallway, his hands stuffed in his pockets. He gave her a charming grin when he saw her. “All taken care of.”
“Where do you plan to take me anyways?” She asked skeptically.
“It’s a secret.” Her mouth quirked up slightly, and she nudged him with her elbow.
“I’m still scared of you you know,” she said shyly.
“Have a little faith.”
“In me.” Lila’s eyes avoided Abel’s, and she stared at the floor as they approached the door.
“I don’t know if I can trust you.”
“I’m not asking you to trust me now. Just have a little faith in the fact that I won’t harm you.” He placed his hand over his heart. “Scout’s honor, really.”
“Okay...” She took a deep breath as he opened the door for her. “Are you sure this is okay?”
“Lila, if you don’t have perfect attendance by the end of the year because of me, I’ll take you to the most expensive restaurant in town and let you order the most expensive thing on the menu. Deal?”
“Deal.” She stepped outside. “Where’s your car?” She asked, searching the parking lot. He gestured at a black Alfa Romeo 8c Spider that was rudely parked lengthways across three spots. “Is that an Alfa Romeo?” She asked in astonishment.
“You know something about cars?”
“My brother--” Lila’s voice caught in her throat, and she shook her head. “Never mind.”
“You can tell me Lila.” She sighed and headed towards the car, nervously pushing her hair behind her ear.
“My brother knew a lot about cars, but...he died last year in an accident.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s not your fault...My dad bought him a LaFerrari for his birthday. He went to take it out for a drive and he was speeding...” She wrapped her arms around herself. “He was only nineteen...” Abel opened the car door for her and she shut herself inside, watching him round the front to get in the driver’s seat. He started the car. “How does she drive?” She asked, unclenching her hands from the sides of her arms.
“Like a dream.” She breathed in astonishment.
“I can only imagine.”
“Would you like to drive on the way back?” She held up her hands.
“No, no. That’s fine, really.”
“I thought you had a license.”
“I do, but...I just don’t trust myself to drive fast cars ever since...the accident...” Her arms found their way back to their awkward crossed position.
“It’s not like you were driving the car--”
“If I got in a crash my parents would be devastated. I never drive in anything touchy and I never go over sixty-five.”
“Alright, I respect that.” He pulled out, his eyes trained on the road. “Are you hungry?”
“A little,” she admitted sheepishly.
“Perhaps we’ll stop for lunch first. Where would you like to go?”
“I’m in the mood for something simple. Any suggestions?”
“How about the cafe on main?”
“Sounds good. I’m in the mood for a vanilla chai.”
“A vanilla chai it is.” He smiled and rolled down the quiet street, checking his surroundings before turning onto main. It was empty, in fact, it was only about eight in the morning. Most stores didn’t open until ten. Shop workers unloaded things from their car, unlocking the doors of their stores to set up for the day. Abel parked on the street.
They stepped inside the small cafe, where a woman with dark skin behind the counter greeted them with a warm smile. Abel stepped up to the counter. “Can I help you?” The woman asked. He gestured at Lila.
“Um...” She rocked back on her heels, staring at the menu. “I’ll have a vanilla chai, and...a croissant. You know what? Make it two croissants. With butter.” Abel smiled and stepped forward.
“I’ll have a caramel macchiato with extra foam and a shot of espresso.” The woman wrote it down and tapped it into the register.
“Twenty dollars and fifty-six cents.” Abel exchanged money with her and took a seat by the window with Lila.
“I’m surprised you actually ordered something,” she admitted. “I was expecting you to say you didn’t want anything again.”
“I figured that would’ve been rude,” he said with a shrug.
The woman bustled over and placed a tray on the table with a smile, backing away slowly as if expecting one of them to say something. Lila ignored her and turned back to Abel. “This is really nice. I have to admit I’ve never been in here before.”
“I guess it’s suiting if you enjoy swanky cafes.”
“What do you prefer?”
“I’m more of a antique person myself.”
“I hadn’t taken you for that kind of guy.” He shrugged.
“Old things fascinate me.” Lila took a sip of her chai.
“Logan told me about...your lifestyle before you came here.”
“Oh she did now?”
“Yeah...You’re really lucky to be born into a wealthy family.”
“I guess. But I was an unhappy child.” The conversation dropped. She didn’t know what it was like to have an unhappy childhood. She’d gotten everything from clothing to furniture to unconditional love from her family.
“I lied to your sister,” she said to break the silence.
“I told her I was an only child.”
“Oh.” He stared at his untouched drink. “Why do you bring it up now?”
“It was bugging me.” He laughed.
“Lila, it’s okay to lie sometimes. Especially about things you don’t want to talk about.”
“I still feel bad. Maybe you should tell her about my brother.”
“I won’t do such a thing. Don’t let your guilt get the best of you.” She stared at the floral tablecloth, her hands folded neatly in her lap. “Lila?” She looked up. “Is the guilt really that terrible?”
“No...” She said. “Not like it should be. To be completely honest, I don’t feel like myself lately. Usually I’d be frantic until I told whomever I’d lied to the truth. But...I’m okay with you not telling her. I was considering not even telling her myself.” She sighed. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“Lila, it’s called being human. You don’t have to try to be perfect all of the time.” She tore into her croissant, mulling it over.
“It’s just hard,” she said, swallowing. “When everyone expects you to be this perfect example of a person...It’s just so much pressure.”
“But you don’t have to give in,” Abel added. He sipped from his drink again while Lila finished her croissants. When she was done, they both stood. “Full?” He asked. She patted her stomach.
“For now.” He smiled and led her out onto the street, which was now busy with people.
“Will you please tell me where we’re going?” She begged. He shook his head.
“It’s a secret.”
A rundown baronial home loomed above them in all of it’s charming grandeur, framed by large angel oak trees and blooming azalea bushes that added to it’s enchantement. Lila stared in astonishment as Abel pulled his keys from his pocket and headed for the front door. “You live here?” She asked, trying to get a good look at everything. She was completely awestruck. This house looked like something from a fairytale.
“Yes.” He unlocked the front door, and she peered inside.
To her disappointment, the room was pitch black. “Why is it so dark in here?” She asked, her voice echoing off the walls.
“I’m renovating. I don’t want you to see this mess. Besides, it’s a beautiful day. I was thinking we could go outside.”
“Is Logan here?”
“Logan is out for the day.” He grabbed her arm gently, so she wouldn’t be frightened, and led her through the house. His touch was warm, and Lila quietly embraced the feel of his hot skin. She heard a door open, and then they were back outside in the light.
Abel’s hand let go of her arm, and if she hadn’t been at a loss for words, she probably would’ve asked him to put it back. A two story white gazebo stood in the back of the yard, it’s winding stairs leading up to a stunning antique balcony that was decorated with fresh flowers. To her left was a beautiful labyrinth garden, and to her right was a large pond covered in lily pads.
“It’s like a dream,” she whispered to Abel, blinking to make sure her eyes weren’t deceiving her.
“I spend most of my time out here,” he admitted, taking a seat on a bench masked by cattails that offered an excellent view of the pond. She joined him.
“How do you ever leave?” She asked.
“It’s hard to part with it,” he said, watching as a fish sprang up from the bottom of the pond to grab something at the surface of the water. “But I get to come back to it every day, and that’s what keeps the tendency to stay at bay.” He looked her in the eyes. “Plus, when I leave I get to see something so beautiful that not even this garden can compare to it’s winsome looks.” She blushed.
“And what would that be?”
“You.” Her face felt hot, and she avoided his eyes. “Please don’t feel tense,” he pleaded. “I know you want me to hold my tongue but sometimes...I let my emotions get the best of me. I don’t expect anything from you. Really.” She looked at him and smiled slightly, trying to hide her face behind her hair, and in that very moment, Abel knew this was no longer a challenge to make Lila into his weapon.
No, this was no longer a game for him, he realized as his heart thudded fast in his chest. He simply had to have Lila now.
Because he was in love with her.