Skirting the Issue
Emily walked quickly down the street. She was regretting her shoe choice. These heels were just that little bit too tall. She could walk in them, but she had to think about it. In addition to that, wet fallen leaves kept sticking to the soles, making them twice as slippery. The air was heavy with moisture from the sudden shower that had appeared out of nowhere just as she’d opened the door to leave. An omen, she’d thought. She had made Reginald drop her off a couple of blocks from the school despite this, to avoid bringing any extra attention to herself. She was glad her dress was black. It gave her that little bit of extra insurance of being able to blend into the shadows later on. She gathered her coat around her as a gust of wind blew in from the lake, whipping her hair in all directions.
Reaching the front door of the school, Emily fished her ticket out of her purse. She handed it over to a girl at the door, who looked up her and down, evaluating her appearance. Emily always felt like people paid more attention to her clothes because she was a Quartermaine. She was reminded once more why she didn’t want to be here. High School was such an evil force in her life. The girl ripped her ticket and let her pass without a word. Emily glanced around her. There was no sign of Nikolas and Sarah.
Music could be heard wafting down the hallway from the school gym. The bass seemed to be shaking the foundation. Several halls of the school were roped off, but she noticed she was able to go down the hall where her locker was located. She shrugged off her coat while opening the door. The lock was being finicky again. She yanked on it hard, and it popped open.
Hanging her coat in the locker, she caught sight of herself in the small mirror the previous tenant had neglected to remove. The mirror was warped and from where she was standing, it distorted her face so that her eyes became her biggest feature. She stared into them. They looked haunted and lonely. She felt a wave of sadness hit her. She was so miserable, she thought to herself. She wondered why she hadn’t realized it before. Everything was so much calmer and sedate in comparison to where she’d been last year at this time. No upcoming trial, her parents were getting along.... Back then she’d had no control over the chaos that surrounded her. Now here she was, having exerted control over her life, still feeling isolated and despondent. She didn’t know how to go about being happy anymore. It wasn’t even that she needed Lucky to be happy, but somehow she hadn’t been prepared for the empty feeling she was now carrying around with her. Lucky had been out of her life before, and while it had hurt, it hadn’t felt like this. That’s because you were stoned for most of it, she scolded herself. She slammed the locker with surprising violence. Taking a deep breath, she smoothed her hair, and headed down the hall in search of her companions.
* * * *
Lucky was not happy. He was tired, he was stressed, and now, thanks to a freak rain shower, he was wet. Tim had suggested they all meet at the docks, and head up to the school together. This had proved to be a bad idea when Deenie and Vince were late, stranding the rest of them in the rain. Lucky had been wearing a jacket, but he’d passed it off to Lizzie when her shrill whining about the weather had got to him. He was still annoyed that she’d used it primarily to protect her hair.
He had changed his mind about forty times about going to this dance. Standing at the docks, he’d considered several times just turning around and going home. It was the idea of dealing with his father that had convinced him to stick it out. The tension in the household was reaching an all-time high. No topic was safe. Luke was completely fed up with him, and Lucky was feeling pretty much the same way.
Lizzie walked along side him in silence. Tim, Vince and Deenie were almost half a block ahead of them by this point. He was aware that she was putting up with a lot of garbage from him. For this reason he was making a concerted effort not to get annoyed with her. Right now the only way he could do this was by maintaining the silence.
It wasn’t Lizzie’s fault, really. He was out of patience for everyone and everything the last few days. Lizzie was probably acting the closest to how he wished certain other people would act. She paid attention to him, always seemed happy to see him, and hadn’t told him to get out of her life. This was the best relationship he had going right now, with the exception of the fact that, more often than not, she drove him nuts. He didn’t even know why she irritated him so much. He guessed it was because she always seemed to be going on about something he didn’t want to talk about. Every once in awhile they could talk, and everything was fine, she didn’t seem to be playing an angle. That, however, was a rare occurrence.
He made a side long glance towards Lizzie. She had his jacket draped over her shoulders, and had a strange expression on her face. He read it as contentment. He’d never seen her like that before. She caught his eye, and smiled at him.
“Are you cold?” she asked, her voice soft. Lucky suddenly felt uncomfortable. He wondered where she thought this evening was going.
“I’m fine,” he told her. He picked up the pace, in an attempt to close the gap between them and the rest of the group. Lizzie followed suit, though her shoes seemed to be causing her trouble. He felt a twinge of guilt. He was trying to get away from her again. He’d been doing that a lot. And her loyalty never seemed to waver. He slowed his pace a little.
What was he doing here? He knew Nik had been the impetus Lizzie had used to get him there, but was that the reason it worked? He hadn’t been thinking about Nikolas much the past few weeks. His mind was usually on his Mother and Lulu... and Emily. He was trying not to admit to that part. Pride told him repeatedly not to care. She had told him she didn’t want him in her life. That was pretty solid rejection. He continually found himself trying to distract himself from the thought of her, however. Right now Lizzie seemed as good a candidate as any to fill that role.
“You don’t seem too into this,” Lizzie observed, attempting to make conversation. Lucky felt himself getting tense again, but he tried to breath through it.
“It’s the lesser of two evils,” he said as evenly as he could manage.
“I thought you said home wasn’t that bad,” she smirked at him. Lucky was relieved to see an expression he recognized.
“Things change,” he muttered. “What about you? You don’t strike me as the school dance type.”
“I work with what I got,” she said. Lucky found himself smiling.
“Yeah, I can see that.”
“Besides, it gives me a chance to keep an eye on my sister. Sarah can be so bubble headed when it comes to guys. Especially Nikolas.”
Lucky’s bad mood descended again. Lizzie observed the scowl on his face. She couldn’t believe the way the mere mention of Nik’s name had such an immediate effect on Lucky’s mood. It was like a knee-jerk reaction. And she couldn’t help but feel that Lucky had lost a fair amount respect for her every time she mentioned his name. Stop it, she scolded herself. She was just nervous, that’s all. For some reason, whenever she felt that way around Lucky, she suddenly started ripping people up. She knew it wasn’t one of her more endearing characteristics.
She wondered what Lucky was obsessing about this time. How much could you think about someone as dull as Nikolas Cassadine? She began considering the number of bad moods she’d endured since she’d met this boy. He must hold a world record, or something. He was always upset about something. Or maybe she just held an uncanny ability to remove all joy from his life. Now she was depressing herself. And she couldn’t shake an uneasy feeling that this particular plan was going to blow up in her face. She ran her fingers though her hair, anxiously.
“You know....” she said, making her voice sound light and playful. “We could just blow this off.”
Lucky eyed her suspiciously.
“And who’s idea was this again? What, is this the coward’s litmus test?”
Hmm... Lizzie thought. Now he’s speaking in tongues. She was seriously rethinking this whole thing.
“Ummm... sure.” she said, uncertainly. Lucky looked thoroughly confused.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m just suddenly thinking, I’m wet --”
“Oh, you’re wet!” Lucky muttered bitterly. “Well, at least your hair is dry. I’m running the risk of having my hair gel permanently glue my eyelashes shut.”
Lizzie giggled. This was better. They should definitely forget the dance.
“Come on. I was just teasing you last week. I never thought you’d actually go through with it.”
“Well, you got any better ideas?”
Lizzie thought about suggesting another walk, but with the rain it seemed to be a bad idea. Besides, Lucky never seemed too enthusiastic about the idea.
“We could.... “ Lizzie wracked her brain. There had to be something to do in this god-forsaken town. They were only half a block from the front door of the school. Lucky was shaking his head.
“Look, Lizzie. We’ve got the tickets, why don’t we at least check it out. If it’s lame -- which it will be -- we’ll go .... someplace else.”
Lizzie sighed. She had a bad feeling about this. She never should have suggested it. Lucky and Emily weren’t talking as it was. And she and Lucky always got along best when she wasn’t around. Maybe she should just try to keep them apart from now on. Besides, after Lucky saw her hanging out with the gruesome two some, he was sure to want to get out of there. Maybe this night would work out in her favor. One thing to remember, she thought to herself. Next time she would scheme further ahead.
* * * *
Emily had decided she hated this. She’d gone into the gym, but she could barely see anything, and none of the vaguely humanoid forms resembled Nikolas and Sarah. She’d gone back to the foyer, but they weren’t there either. She’d strolled up and down each of the hallways that she was still allowed access to. She’d checked the cafeteria, but there were only four people in there, and they were all playing cards. They’d looked at her like she was intruding, so she’d left. She was about to make a second lap around the school when she heard Sarah calling her.
“Emily!” Sarah dashed across the foyer, and grabbed Emily’s arm. “I’m so sorry we’re late. Gram thought we should wait for the rain to stop.”
Emily nodded. An uncomfortable Nikolas stood behind Sarah. He gave her a weak smile.
“Hi,” she said, uneasily. “Ummm...” She had no idea what to suggest next. This wasn’t a problem, because Sarah had things under control.
“It’s almost 8:30. I have to go tear tickets. Why don’t you two go into the dance?”
Emily eyed Nikolas warily
“Do you... want....?” She didn’t know why she felt so uncomfortable. She realized that Nik was probably feeling a million times more out of place than she was. She’d never seen him look so tense. Meanwhile, Sarah’s eyes were so wide they looked like they were going to envelope her head.
“I’m sorry, i have to go. You’ll meet me back here at nine?”
Emily and Nikolas nodded in unison. Sarah squeezed Nik’s hand and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. Emily averted her eyes.
“Have fun,” Nikolas murmured to her. He kissed her lightly on the lips. Emily wondered if she would make a convincing tree. Sarah reluctantly pulled away from Nikolas, and headed over to the door. Emily bit her lip, trying to think of something to say.
“Do you want to go into the dance?” she asked. Nikolas looked pensive.
“I suppose i shouldn’t put it off.”
Emily shook her head.
“Or...” she said heavily, “We could just go sit in the cafeteria and talk.”
“I went into the dance for a minute, looking for you,”
Emily giggled. That might explain the look on his face.
“Is it always like that?”
Emily leaned against the wall.
“Basically. The music is always too loud to hear what anyone is saying, the lights are always ... well, off. Someone always gets in trouble for showing up drunk. Someone always dances with someone they shouldn’t. Then someone else gets hysterical, and ends up holed up in the girl’s bathroom with a bunch of their friends. Then goes home because their mascara ran, and they don’t want to see the boy in question looking like a raccoon. And there’s usually a fight, just to top things off.” She looked at Nikolas, and couldn’t help but laugh. “Ready to go in now?”
Nikolas shook his head.
“Sounds really....” He made a face “cool.”
Emily laughed again. She was feeling better. She glanced over her shoulder to see how Sarah was doing.
The first thing she saw was Lucky coming through the door. She felt her blood run cold. She turned back to Nikolas, her eyes wide.
“I saw,” Nikolas said grimly. “Do you want to go say hi?”
Emily shook her head.
“Let’s go to the caf, ok?”
She took his elbow, and they headed down the hall together.
* * * *
Lizzie had seen Emily take off down the opposite hallway just as they’d come through the door. She looked over at Lucky, to see if he’d caught sight of her. He was preoccupied with a search for his ticket. By the time he looked up, Emily was long gone.
“Are you ready?” she asked, teasingly. Lucky gave her his who? me? look.
Lizzie handed her ticket to her sister, who had been silently waiting for them to get organized, as if she’d never laid eyes on them before.
“Here,” she chirped, brightly.
“Lizzie,” her sister responded, studying the ticket. Satisfied, she ripped it carefully, and handed the stub back to her sister. “I didn’t know you were coming.”
Lizzie smiled sweetly.
“It was a last minute thing,”
Behind her, Lucky found himself suppressing a smile. He didn’t understand Lizzie when she was around her sister.
“Well, have fun,” Sarah said, unemotionally. She managed a slightly stilted smile for Lucky. “Hi.”
Lucky handed her the ticket.
“Hey,” He looked around. “Where’s your prince?”
Sarah looked tense.
“Lucky,” she said, warningly. He rolled his eyes.
“Don’t worry. I’ll behave.”
“That’s all I ask,” Sarah murmured, ripping his ticket. She looked up and gave him a smile. He knew she was really making an effort to be nice to him. It made him feel a little indignant, but he decided to let it lie.
“See ya,” he said, as if he had urgent business to attend to. He slid past her, and moved towards the trophy case, where Tim, Deenie, Vince and Lizzie had congregated. “Now what?” he asked, as he approached them.
“You make this sound like such a chore,” Deenie smirked at him. Lucky looked at her blankly.
“I just don’t feel like admiring football trophies from the last century all night.”
Deenie gave Vince an exaggerated look.
“Well, then. Don’t let us keep you.”
Lucky sighed and looked at Lizzie.
“Do you want to go in?”
Lizzie smiled probably a little too widely in response. She tried to make her voice sound casual to compensate.
Lucky gave her an odd look, then cocked his head to one side. Butterflies appeared in Lizzie’s stomach. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea.
“Then let’s go.”
* * * *
Nine o’clock came quickly. Emily was surprised how comfortable she’d been talking to Nik once they’d gotten away from the more public areas of the school. The card players seemed somewhat annoyed by their presence, but Nikolas could have cared less, and somehow that attitude was contagious. Instead of worrying about them, she’d tried to relax and have fun. She’d come pretty close, too. The one thing that was bothering her, predictably, was the appearance of Lucky. She’d had no idea he was going to be there. The words Lucky and dance didn’t necessarily follow each other in her mind.
She could see how the rest of this night was going to go. Lucky was going to ignore her. She was going to feel awful. Nikolas and Sarah were going to go all mushy over each other, and end up slow dancing all night, and she’d probably say she wasn’t feeling well, and walk home alone. She’d get home in one piece, Grandfather would catch her trying to sneak up the stairs, and yell at her for not calling. That would start some sort of war amongst the adults. She would manage to escape to her room, where she would lie on her bed and stare at her ceiling, considering how much she hated her life. She should probably just leave now and save herself some time.
Right now, however, Nikolas was noting the time, and suggesting they go and collect Sarah. Nikolas’s feeling for Sarah were about as obviously displayed as anyone’s she’d every seen. She found herself wishing his brother was like that. Lucky swallow his feelings until he exploded with them. It probably appeared that he was incapable of concealing his moods, but from what she’d seen he was too good at it. He bottled until shaken, the emotional equivalent of a can of soda pop. She wondered if he was bottling any feelings about her.
Following Nikolas down the hall, Emily began to feel like a third wheel before Sarah was even in sight. Nikolas already looked desperate to see her. It would have been funny if her own social life hadn’t been so decidedly lame. Sarah suddenly appeared at the end of the hallway. Emily could tell, even with the distance, that she had the same starved animal look Nikolas had.
“Hi,” Nikolas said, his voice sounding surprisingly small.
“Hi,” Sarah sounded breathless. Emily looked around for shadows. The hallway was too well lit. Next time, she thought, I’m wearing camouflage.
* * * *
The music was loud. Lucky didn’t seem too into it. Lizzie knew he had an electric blues fetish, so this loud alterna-rock stuff didn’t seem to be doing much for him. He actually looked bored with the whole thing. Lizzie had been suspecting, ever since the docks, that this was not going to work out the way she wanted it to, unless she made some sort of move. After all, she hadn’t done this to spend the whole night leaning against a wall with nothing to look at.
“Lucky?” she turned to him. He didn’t look up. “Lucky!” she yelled louder. “Hey!”
Lucky turned to her.
“Hey, do you want to dance or something?” he asked.
Lizzie’s jaw dropped. She quickly snapped it shut. Maybe she hadn't heard him correctly. She tried to think of something laid back and cool to say, but her brain was quickly shutting down on her. She felt her mouth go dry. This wasn’t going to work. She couldn’t act like this, she told herself. She had to maintain some kind of detachment....
“Lizzie?” Lucky was starring at her, his head bowed forward, somewhat. He looked adorable. He also looked like he thought she was a nut. She jumped, forcing herself to act.
“Sure, yeah. Whatever.”
Lucky smirked at her, and Lizzie was grateful that the lack of light hid the flush that was creeping up her neck.
By the time they reached the edge of the dance floor, the last beats of the song were playing out. The next song came up immediately, a slow piano based number. Lucky looked at her uncomfortably. Lizzie forced herself to give a small laugh.
“I guess that’s it,” she said, shrugging. Lucky considered this a moment.
“Well, I can’t promise not to step on your feet,” he said lightly. He put a hand on her hip. Lizzie’s stomach tied itself into one big knot. She placed her hands gently on his shoulders.
Lizzie felt positively light headed as they moved to the music. She kept her eyes down, afraid to look at him. She felt like her blood was running closer to the surface. She rested her head against his chest. Lucky didn’t seem to protest. She tried once again to control the smile that kept creeping onto her lips. She’d never felt this happy in her life.
Lucky regarded the meager lights that had been hung from the roof of the gym. They were pretty pathetic. His Dad’s club had a better lighting system, and it was hardly something his father spent a lot of time considering -- he was much more concerned with the sound system. He noticed Lizzie had lain her head against him. He looked down at the top of her head. This was sort of nice, he thought. The thing about Lizzie, was that not only did she put up with everything, but she also seemed to like him more than almost anyone he’d ever met. For some reason, he didn’t trust that. So far, however, this was easy. And it wasn’t as gut-wrenching as things had been with Emily, and, to a degree, with Sarah. Maybe this was the route to go.
* * * *
Emily stood against the wall, glad to have finally located some decent shadows. The second she had entered the room some slow song had started up, and Nikolas and Sarah had both gotten this goopy look on their faces. She’d known she was going to be invisible for the rest of the night. They were dancing now, and it was such an intense sight that Emily felt extremely uncomfortable watching them. She examined the lights on the ceiling, then scanned the dance floor. Her eyes were adjusting to the light, or lack there of, and now she could actually make out some people she knew scattered around the room. She was trying to see if there was someone she could go talk to, when she spotted Lucky. He was dancing with some girl, who was pressed against him. She squinted at the couple, trying to figure out the girl’s identity. It suddenly hit her like a ton of bricks. Lizzie.
Emily tried to look somewhere else, but her eyes kept finding their way back to the two. She felt ill. Things looked so comfortable and easy between them. Things had been that way between her and Lucky once. She couldn’t see how they would ever be that way again. She felt her heart move into her throat. She hadn’t expected him to be here tonight. She would have bet money on his non-appearance, and now here he was, with Lizzie. She wracked her brain trying to figure out how Lizzie had gotten him here. She assumed it was her idea. Could things be that serious between them?
The song ended, and she watched Lucky pull back from Lizzie. Lizzie’s body language was very out of character. She looked fragile, shy, quiet. Nothing like the girl who had verbally assaulted her on the road two weeks ago. She assumed Lucky was now aware of Lizzie’s feelings for him. She guessed she had herself to thank for that. Stop it, she told herself. This is what you wanted! You don’t have to feel guilty, you don’t have to feel like a bad person. You don’t have to feel anything.
Except extraordinarily jealous.
Nikolas and Sarah were looking for her. They were both standing at the edge of the floor, scanning the dark. She stepped out of the shadows. Her friends both looked astonished when she appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Hi, having fun?” Sarah asked hopefully.
“Give me a few minutes. I’m still trying to identify people.”
Her eyes were drawn again, across the room to Lucky and Lizzie, now talking to a group of people.
* * * *
Tim was teasing Lucky about having actually deigned to take to the dance floor. Lucky was occupying himself by attempting to get his hair to move in any other direction than down. It seemed the rain had done irreparable damage. Lizzie felt she could very well be glowing. This evening was turning out so much better than she’d planned. And Lucky hadn’t even laid eyes on Emily yet. She was now convinced that this wasn’t necessary. Just as she thought this, Tim opened his big mouth.
“Hey, isn’t that your friend, the rich kid?” Tim asked, pointing across the floor. Lucky looked up, and immediately spotted Emily, talking to Nikolas and Sarah at the edge of the floor. Lizzie noticed that he caught his breath. She followed his gaze, and realized what he was reacting to. Even she had to admit that Emily looked incredible. She didn't’ know the girl had it in her.
Lucky starred at her for just a moment to long, then looked back and Tim and shrugged his shoulders, in an unconvincing attempt to look like he didn’t care. Lizzie felt her heart sink. She pulled away from the group, and walked towards the DJ, who was taking requests. She tried to look like she was examining his selection, but the CD covers just flashed past her. She felt a lump forming in her throat. She shook her head. She was not going to cry, she told herself. She was not going to cry about this. She’d wanted this to happen. It wasn’t like they were going to start talking again. If anything Lucky was probably feeling even more distant from Emily. But somehow, Lizzie still felt hurt. No matter what she did, she couldn’t get Lucky to look at her like that. The DJ was looking at her expectantly. Lizzie passed him the CD in her hand, noting as she handed it over that it was Nine Inch Nails. Whatever, she thought. She turned and walked back to the group, determined to keep her head held high.
* * * *
Emily felt like she was ruining Nikolas and Sarah’s evening. They obviously were happy just to have each other’s company now. She’d served her purpose. Sarah, however, was too polite to just forget about her, so they both kept checking in with her. She was actually getting annoyed with that. She wanted to be able to go someplace and feel sorry for herself without interruption.
They were dancing again, and Emily decided it was a good time to make a temporary disappearance. She slipped out the door, and moved rapidly down the hallway. She ducked into the nearest washroom, only to be faced with a girl from her year, Allison, who was in tears, surrounded by her friends, bitterly denouncing a boy from their class. She glared at Emily for her intrusion. Emily looked at herself in the mirror, and fixed her lipstick, mostly to annoy Allison. Satisfied with her appearance, she turned and exited the room. The hallway was surprisingly crowded with people who had given up attempting to have conversations in the actual dance. She stepped over a few pairs of legs, extended into he hallway, moving slowly towards the drink machine at the end of the hallway. She dug into her purse for some change, and pressed the apple juice button. The machine clunked, and the slim tin can was spit out at her. She picked it up gingerly, looking around to see if Nikolas or Sarah were searching for her again. The coast was clear. She walked across the hall into the stairwell.
* * * *
Lizzie heard the opening bars of ‘Hurt’ come over the speakers. She realized this was probably her doing, and how appropriate it was. She looked over her shoulder. Lucky was nowhere to be seen. Tim was looking at her, however. He raised his eyebrows, which she guessed was his way of asking her to dance. She turned away, playing dumb. She noticed her sister and Nikolas were dancing across the room. They hadn’t taken their eyes off each other all night. It made her feel nauseous. She exhaled shakily. It would all be over soon, she told herself. She should be happy. For the first time, Lucky had shown some sort of affection towards her. All the same, she couldn’t help but feel like the look he’d given Emily was the look of her doom.
* * * *
Lucky pushed the large metal door at the back of the gym open, and stepped out into the damp air. A heavy mist had fallen over the city. He felt like he was moving through cold soup. He walked down the small pathway along the back of the football field, around to the teacher’s parking lot. He just needed to get some air. Seeing Emily was not something he was prepared for. He’d known she was going to be there, but somehow, he’d managed to get his mind off that fact, right up until Tim had pointed her out. He looked at his watch. It was almost ten-thirty. Half an hour left to suffer through. He could probably talk Lizzie out of staying, though. The thing was, then he’d be stuck hanging out with her, for at least a little while. he didn’t feel up to that right now.
He spotted a solitary figure leaning against the school, in the lower part of the parking lot. The light from the streetlight made her appear as a silhouette, tall and thin, in a simple black dress. He watched her take a sip from a canned drink. He’d seen this person before.