Handle With Care

[Cyden universe] Will didn't know what to expect from his family's new foster child, but it certainly wasn't a standoffish, recluse of a girl. Even though she wants nothing of the sort, Will still hopes to befriend her, which proves to be quite the challenge. For once, it's a challenge that Will's girlfriend Natalie isn't helping him face, and Will is left to figure things out as best he can.


4. Chapter Four: I Can't Explain


     “I just don’t get it,” Will said, glaring as he picked blindly at his fries. “It’s like she’s a completely different person.”

     Natalie followed Will’s gaze to where it had come to rest dozens of times over the past ten minutes.  She sighed as she watched Alex smile and laugh at something one of the kids at her table had said. “I don’t understand it either, but it’s a good thing right? I mean, at least she’s making friends.” 

     “Yeah, but does she just hate me?” Will asked in exasperation. “Did I do something to make her mad?”

     “I doubt it,” Natalie said, giving him a reassuring smile. “Just give her a while, okay? Maybe this is her way of adjusting.”

     Will frowned, but didn’t protest. “Did she say anything to you?” 

     “Don’t you think I would’ve said something if she had?”

     “Well, I mean, like… Did she talk to you at all? When you walked her from cultures to her study hall?” Will asked. 

     Natalie shook her head, brushing a lock of hair behind her ear. “Nope. She was as quiet as she was when we went shopping.”

     Will’s frown only deepened. 

     “Don’t worry about it,” Natalie insisted. “How’s your day going so far?”

     With a final look towards Alex’s table, Will turned his attention back to his lunch and to Natalie. “Not bad. I guess the good thing about being distracted with Alex is not having to worry about first-day nerves.”

     Natalie scoffed. “Like you ever get nervous for school. School is your comfort zone.”

     Will smiled at her. “True.” 

     “Hey!” Bianca said, setting her plastic lunch tray down across from Natalie. “How’s it going, guys?”

     “Good,” Natalie answered. “Good first day?”

     Bianca grinned. “Are you kidding? The first day is always the best. Seeing people for the first time after summer combined with not doing any work? That’s my kinda school.” She pulled an elastic hairband off of her wrist and twisted her bushy black hair into a bun with practiced ease. Popping the tab on her iced tea, Bianca looked over at Will. “What’s up, Will? Haven’t seen you in a few weeks.” 

     “Nothing much,” Will replied. Natalie could sense that he was deliberately being casual as he asked, “Have you met the new girl in our grade?”

     “Which one?” Bianca asked. “It’s a pretty big school; lots of new kids.”

     “Her name is Alex,” Will replied, nodding towards the table across the room. “The one dressed all in black.”

     Bianca looked that way. “Oh, yeah, I know her! She’s in my study hall.”

     Will perked up, and Natalie shot him a look. His fixation with figuring Alex out was going to get annoying pretty soon. “Really? What do you think of her?”

     “I dunno,” Bianca said with a little shrug. “She’s pretty cool. Nice. I don’t know her very well yet. Why?”

     “Because he’s a stalker, that’s why,” Natalie interjected, rolling her eyes. 

     “Who’s a stalker?” Gary asked, sliding into the seat next to Bianca. He nodded to everyone. “‘Sup.”

     Natalie answered again, “Will is.”

     “I am not,” Will protested. “I’m just really confused.” Gary’s eyebrows shot up. 

     “Uh oh, who’re you stalking?” Gary asked before leaning across the table and saying in an undertone, “I told you, Connor doesn’t swing that way.” 

     Reddening with either annoyance or embarrassment while the girls laughed, Will jerked a thumb towards Alex’s table. “The girl in black, you idiot. And I’m not stalking her.”

     “He just can’t figure out why she doesn’t like him,” Natalie explained, not doing a very good job of it. Will shot her a look. 

     “Oh, yeah, I’d be confused too,” Bianca said. “I mean, how could any girl possibly resist your incredible charms?” she asked, her voice heavy with sarcasm.

     “Bianca, you’re supposed to look at people when you’re talking to them. Eyes over here,” Gary said with a grin. “Now what’s that about my irresistible charm?” Bianca rolled her eyes. 

     “Okay, look,” Will said, pushing away his tray of food. “Alex is my new… foster-sister, I guess you’d call it? And she’s been ignoring me since she got here, but now that she’s at school, she’s acting completely normal. It doesn’t make any sense. I don’t think I did anything to her.” 

     It was Gary’s turn to be confused. “When did you get a foster-sister?”

     “Like, a few days ago?” Will answered. “I didn’t want to tell you guys until it was for sure.”

     Natalie didn’t miss the glance that Bianca shot her but ignored it. Her friend would say whatever was on her mind in due time, probably the next time they were alone. 

     “So, what,” Gary continued, “she, like, lives with you now?”

     Will looked at Gary like he was an idiot. Which, sometimes, he was. “Do you understand what a foster child is?”

     “Geez, just making sure I got it right,” Gary said, eating the last of his pitiful portion of applesauce. “When do we get to meet her?” 

     “That’s not really up to me. We’ll see how things go,” Will answered. 

     “Also, you guys might want to keep the foster thing on the down low,” Natalie added. “There’s no need to cause drama.”

     The other two nodded. “Of course,” Bianca agreed. 

     Natalie caught Will’s grateful look. She gave a little smile. It only made sense that they keep Alex’s situation from being public knowledge; until she decided to come out herself, if she ever did, then it wasn’t their place to spread her personal business. Knowing that Alex was a foster child would only raise questions about how that had come about, and Natalie suspected that wasn’t something she would want to explain. 

     “So, anyway… What’s up with you guys?” Natalie asked, changing the subject at last. 

     Gary just shrugged, leaving Bianca to answer, “Well, I found out that Dom Masachello is in our Spanish class. Which, as you know, is a really good thing,” she told Natalie with a suggestive wink.

     “I’m right here,” Will pointed out with a grin. 

     “Oh, that’s not a good thing for Natalie,’ Bianca said, waving a hand. “That’s a good thing for me.”

     “Bianca, he’s a senior,” Natalie responded. “Seniors don’t date down unless you’re, like, Kate Rollands.”

     Bianca sighed, probably picturing the model-worthy sophomore with fiery red hair that was always perfectly styled. Last Natalie had heard, Kate was dating a freshman in college. “Well I might as well give it a shot, right? What do I have to lose?”

     Natalie shook her head at her friend. “Your dignity?” she suggested. Bianca was pretty in a cute way. Her dark brown skin was gorgeous and clear, but her face was often dwarfed by her crazy hair. Natalie loved her friend, she just didn’t want to see her be disappointed after failing to win arguably the hottest guy in school. 

     “Is that really true?” Gary asked. “That seniors don’t date down?”

     “Usually,” Natalie replied. 

     “Does that go for senior girls too?” 

     Natalie’s brows lowered in suspicion. “Uh… probably?”

     A slow grin spread across Gary’s face. He held a hand up to his ear. “Was that a challenge I heard?”

     In unison, the other three groaned. “No,” Will told his best friend, half groaning in exasperation, half begging. “God, Gary, no.”

     Gary held his hands up in surrender. “Too late. The challenge has been issued. It can’t be taken back now.”

     “Gary, no one challenged you,” Bianca tried to impress upon him. 

     “Come on, Bianca,” Gary said, punching her lightly in the arm. “You should be behind me on this.”

     Bianca looked skeptical. “Why…?”

     Gary’s eyes danced beneath his brows. His half-hispanic heritage seemed more prominent just after summer, his  freshly tanned skin glowing in contrast to his dark hair. “If I can land a senior, then doesn’t that mean you can too? Isn’t there a word for that? Like the lawyers do.” He thought for a minute, then snapped his fingers. “Setting precedent! If I set a precedent, then it’ll be easier for you to plead your case to Dom.”

     Everyone was looking at Gary, either wary, impressed, or a little of both. “What?” Gary asked, “I binge-watched like four seasons of Suits this summer.”

     “Every now and then you have to remind us that you’re actually smart sometimes,” Will commented. “Usually it gets lost in your stupidity.”

     Gary frowned at him. “I can’t tell if that was a compliment or an insult.”

     Will responded with a grin, and Natalie shook her head. “You can’t be serious about this,” she spoke up. “You’re just going to embarrass yourself by throwing yourself at senior girls.”

     “Please, he’d find some way to embarrass himself no matter what,” Bianca spoke up. 

     “Hey,” Gary replied in mock offense. He turned back to Natalie. “What, you don’t think any of the senior girls would like me?”

     Natalie surveyed him. “You’re kind of scrawny.”

     You’re kind of… mean,” Gary finished, looking like he was barely resisting sticking his tongue out at her. “Besides, my wit and charm make up for it.”

     “Uh, huh,” Natalie said, unconvinced. “Well, I guess we’ll see about that.”

     “I guess we will.”

     The bell rang, and Will loaded Natalie’s trash onto his plate and headed for the garbage can. She smiled at him in thanks. Before he could return, Bianca put her hand on Natalie’s arm, pulling her into the sea of people. “Walk with me,” she said. It wasn’t like Natalie had much choice, so she slung her bag over her shoulder and let Bianca pull her along. 

     They made it to the hall, and Bianca stopped at her new locker. As she fumbled with her lock, she said, “So.”

     “So?” Natalie replied. 

     “So, is fooling around with your foster-sister considered incest?” Bianca asked, throwing the question out as if it were a comment about the weather. 

     Natalie balked. “I’m sorry, what?” 

     “Aren’t you worried about Will and Alex? She’s pretty, and they’re going to be living together,” Bianca said, as if that was all she needed to decide that they were going to end up fooling around. “Did you know about this beforehand?”

     “Wha- Yeah. Well, we thought it was going to be a boy, but…” Natalie watched Bianca’s carefully shaped brow arch and sighed. “Don’t worry about it. I trust Will. Believe me, nothing’s going to happen between them.”

     Bianca still looked wary. “Are you saying that because she won’t talk to him? Because guys love a challenge.”

     Natalie stared at her friend. “Bianca, I thought you liked Will!” 

     “I do!” she replied. “I think he’s great.” Bianca’s bright smile at that statement suddenly melted into seriousness. “I also think that he’s a male and therefore can’t be trusted.” 

     Shaking her head, Natalie said, “I can’t do this right now; I have to get to class, and so do you. But trust me, Will isn’t going to do anything with her. Alright?” 

     Her eyes still narrowed, Bianca agreed. “Alright.”

     “See you,” Natalie said, then headed off into the dissipating crowd of people. Bianca might not believe it, but Natalie was positive Will wasn’t going to do anything. Even if his foster-sister had been Kate Rollands, Natalie would trust him. Bianca didn’t understand, but she didn’t have to. 

     When Natalie reached Spanish - the only class that she shared with Alex - the other girl had already arrived.  Natalie spotted her from across the room and headed for the empty desk next to hers. It was futile, of course; the teacher would give assigned seats momentarily, but it gave Natalie a chance to see how Alex acted towards her in the last few minutes before the teacher got settled. “Hey,” Natalie said. 

     Whether in the interest of not appearing rude or for some other reason, Alex nodded in return. “Hello,” she said stiffly. 

     “So I saw you sitting with Ray and Claire and them at lunch. Are you making friends?” Natalie asked, her tone light and conversational. 

     Alex’s eyes narrowed as if trying to bore through Natalie’s skull and reveal her “true” intentions. “Maybe. Why?”

     “Just checking,” Natalie replied. “You know you’re always welcome to sit with us.”

     Instead of responding, Alex turned her gaze to the desk where she was deepening a hole someone had dug with their pencil. Natalie gave an inward sigh as the teacher started roll. Well, at least she had tried. 

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