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From the Battlefield universe. Currently off sale, but here's a reason you should pick it up when it returns.

* * * * *


When Angela had told Orlando she needed space from him, she hadn’t expected him to take the request so seriously. At first, she was glad because it gave her time to get over the fact that he was essentially treating her heart like a yo-yo. Bouncing back and forth between wanting her close and then pushing her away, only to bring her back again, all the while playing the same game with Tait until he could decide which one he liked better.

She should have taken that as a sign. That he was bad news. Any guy worth her attention wouldn’t behave that way. Shouldn’t treat her that way.

But she couldn’t let him go, no matter how hard she tried. She missed him and their small adventures to art fairs, diners, and parks. The way he got brain freezes from slurping down coffee slushes too fast, and the way he cautiously examined the world around them despite claiming to live spontaneously. She missed his laugh, his offensive cynicism, the fact he got excited over the color yellow even though he only wore black. All of those little things she noticed and loved about him. The one she loved the most was the way they just…were…whenever they hung out. No pressure, so natural.

What about Tait? Did he fit so well with her too? Is that why he had such a hard time letting his ex go? No, when Angela last spoke with him about their stupid web, he’d flat out admitted to not caring about Tait anywhere near as much. He claimed he owed Tait a fair chance, or at the very least he needed a chance to get her out of his head completely. Blah, blah, blah. That had been the deciding factor for Angela. Whatever personal issues he had, they needed to be sorted through before she and him could have a successful relationship.

Maybe that was her problem. She was putting too much pressure too soon. Most teenagers didn’t think about their dating lives in the long term. The whole point of having a boyfriend for most girls was to gain experience, to feel wanted, to prove “yes, I am desirable!” Angela definitely wanted all of those things too. Orlando…he was different than the guys at her school. When she thought about him, she knew she didn’t want anything about them to be halfhearted. Was that fair to him, though? Did Orlando want that much devotion so soon?

She sighed. Love sucks. And she knew for a fact she loved him, because she wouldn’t forgive any other guy for being such a doorknob.

At least she still got to see him. That was something. They fought evil aliens together, saved the world, and occasionally ate pancakes after they finished their missions – with the rest of the group, but that wasn’t the point. The two of them were civil, pleasant, almost normal even. Every so often, he’d slip and act like “before”. Then he’d bite his lip, and the walls would go back up, and he’d think carefully before every sentence he said in her presence like he was walking on eggshells, afraid of setting her off.

He was over visiting her brother, JD. She could hear them talking quietly in the kitchen. Their parents were involved in the conversation too. All of their voices were so low, so she was unable to make out what they were saying exactly through the thin walls of her bedroom. Odd. Any other time he’d come over to “hang” with JD, there was no effort to hide what they did. She’d eavesdropped on all their video game discussions, their mutual appreciation for Joseph Macnamera movies, fighting over which football team was the best. She even got to witness some deep conversations about dating philosophies and future goals – mostly in regards to JD, but those small glimpses into Orlando’s head were telling. Especially when Orly said her brother needed to stop dating just for the sake of dating. That meant something, right?

Overanalyzing. I bet they’re just being quiet because the twins are napping.

“Okay, I’ll be back in about an hour,” Orlando said at last.

Her mom spoke next. “Let me get Angela.”

Angela sat up on her bed just as her mom knocked on the door before poking her head in. “What’s up?” She tried to keep her excitement at bay.

“I need you to run to the grocery store. Dad and I are going out, so we’re taking the car. But Orlando offered to drive.” She paused. “Actually, he agreed to just make the run himself, but we need new diapers, and wipes, and...JD never gets the right brand. It’s not a problem if you help is it? I know things have been…uh…”

“We’re fine,” Angela said. Her mom knew the bare bones details. That Angela crushed on Orlando hard, that he had commitment problems, that there had been a fight. She didn’t mention the evil aliens, saving the world, his ex-girlfriend being a nightmare who believed in manipulating people for the bad guys, part.

Her mom let out a soft sigh of relief. “Okay, thanks. I’m so sorry if you guys have another fight. It’s my fault. I lost track of the diaper count.”

“We’re fine,” Angela repeated. And it was the truth. She and Orlando would make basic small talk, just like they had ever since she told him to back off. Although, this would also be the first time they’d been alone together since that night. Maybe it would end up being explosive after all.

She’d take the risk. Angela got off the bed, gave her mom and hug, and joined the party in the kitchen.

“Ready?” Orlando asked, jingling his keys. “JD said we have to get pizza too. We should get on the road before he becomes a Snickers commercial.”

“I’m ready,” she said, though it was more of a pep talk for herself than a response to him.

For the first few minutes in the car, they were quiet—comfortably so—listening to whatever was playing on the built in MP3 player of Orlando’s luxury sedan. Then Angela noticed he missed a turn.

“Grocery store is over there,” she said, pointing to her right.

“We’re not really going to the store,” he said. “You’re caught in a plot.”

She glanced over at him. His face was expressionless, like usual. “So my parents aren’t going out, and we’re not out of diapers? No pizza? Does JD know this?”

“The parents leaving and the pizza part are real. He’s ordering it as we speak. The only part that was a fib was the needing diapers part. We had to find a plausible excuse to get you in the car,” he explained.

“Why?”

He didn’t say anything for a long time. She noticed they were driving into Lunar Falls territory, and soon they were parked in the lot of Central Park. The same parking lot where they’d learned about Tait’s evil doings—learned so much about each other in general. Not a pleasant location from their past, but a crucial one.

“We need to talk,” he said, answering her at last.

She swallowed. “Do we? I thought I made it clear last time.”

“I was afraid you’d say that,” he said quietly. “Which is why I knew if I asked you outright to go somewhere with me, you wouldn’t come.”

Her heart beat a little faster. Surely, this was a good sign. She couldn’t let that make her lose her resolve. She couldn’t go back to being his toy. “I guess I can give you a few minutes to say your peace since you went through all this effort to trick me into listening.” He was right. There was no way she’d have come had he formally made the request.

“I was a jerk,” he said. “We established this before, but I need to say it again. I was a jerk. Unfair. Wrong. What I want you to know is that you were never a second choice. You’ve always been first.”

“Always?” she asked, doubt creeping into her voice.

“Always,” he gazed at her, his blue eyes so intense and serious. She knew he meant every word. “All of the confusion with Tait…I’m not sure how to explain it, or justify it. I’m not sure if I can. I’ll try because I know it’s important for you. You’ve always been one who likes to understand. Denial was definitely played a small part. Not just in that I wanted her to be good. I also denied having feelings for you because I knew if I screwed up, it’d be so complicated.”

She nodded, following his train of thought even if she didn’t like it. “We don’t need a repeat of JD and Cadence.”

“No,” he mumbled, and she noticed his cheeks flush a little. “Then I realized that I dated Tait for the wrong reasons in the first place. From the beginning. I was attracted to her, she’s smart, new school. I wasn’t social bubonic plague. I actually had the option of dating her, and the thought was exciting.”

“Uh-huh,” Angela managed, knowing that if she stopped him from spilling his guts, she’d never get the chance again. He’d close himself off. Hearing him gush about how amazing another girl was, though was not easy. Tait was perfect, there was no denying it. Angela and her were old cheer camp friends. Outside of the working for evil aliens part, they got along great.

He gazed ahead of him at the steering wheel. “Even if she wasn’t involved in the Alturan business, we’d have still broken up pretty quick.”

That surprised her. “Oh?”

“I’m a safety blanket for her. She likes me because I give her security. I’d never be a priority to her, and I’m selfish in that I have to have that. I’m not interesting in dating just because, yet I did that with her anyway without even realizing.” He laughed a little. “Then you came along, and I started getting the feels for you. Part of going back to her was to make sure that what I felt for you was the real deal. Because I can’t date you just for the sake of dating. Blame it on everything else going on, but you know that given our circumstances it’d be…awful.”

Circumstances did play a huge role in life in general. They shaped future decisions just as much as present ones. Angela understood that more than ever thanks to joining the quest of saving the world. Being thrust into an adult world at sixteen had her growing up a little bit earlier, she got that too. The whole group was soul searching, it seemed.

Orlando cleared his throat. “Anyway, I’ve spent our time apart deliberating over just how far my feelings for you run. Are they legit? Are they worth a long term investment? Do I want to see if this is…it? I don’t want to sound fatalistic and overdramatic, but if there was no possibility of us lasting, I didn’t want to pursue it. Can’t say I know for sure if it will, but I also don’t anticipate us crashing and burning within a week either. Let alone a handful of months. I might be wrong.”

She squealed internally. Oh. Em. Gee. He’s…in love with me! Which sounded silly in retrospect because they were so young. Was it possible for them to love so deeply? Most of society would say nope.

“If you can forgive me, I want to give it a chance,” he said softly. “I’ve already cleared it with your parents. You know, since I’m eighteen. They’re okay with it so long as I respect certain boundaries for at least a year. It’s basically a contract. JD’s on board too, though he’s made it clear I’m not allowed to touch you.” He rolled his eyes. “Alan said as long as we don’t fight while doing business, he’ll conveniently look away.”

“You covered all of your bases,” she said. “You got Alan’s permission?”

He nodded. “Mmhmm.”

“And my parents said…what?” She laughed. “Wow.”

“I was surprised,” he confessed. “Though it was your mom who made that comment. When your dad gave her the side eye she said she wanted to be realistic. JD hated that, but he has no place to talk.”

“No, no he doesn’t.” She still couldn’t believe it. “You guys got…really in-depth in this discussion.”

“I had to cover all of my bases,” he said. “Like I said, I’m taking this seriously.” He reached for her hand and gave it a soft kiss. “I’m taking you seriously. I…” He shook his head.

Orlando wasn’t ready to say the three words just yet. She respected that. “Let’s see where this goes,” she said.

He kissed her knuckles again. “I’ve exceeded my mushy quota. Don’t have high expectations.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”
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