Pierre stared at the man before him.
"Parker." The name felt foreign on his tongue, even more so when he hadn't seen the man who was his half-brother for years. "What are you doing here?"
Parker, whose only similarity he shared with Pierre was the stubborn chin – which happened to be a dominant trait in all of the Lachlan men – chuckled, though one couldn't be sure whether it was in amusement or with hidden motives.
"I live here." He simply said. Parker raised a brow. "Aren't you going to come in?"
Pierre frowned, before realising that in his shock of seeing them all here, he had taken a step back and out of the threshold. He shook his head. "I think I'm fine here."
Parker raised his eyebrow and breezily said, "Is that so? Well, the rest of us prefer to stay warm than freeze so you can either come in or just leave."
"Parker." Katya blurted out, her tone alarmed as she eyed the tall man warily.
He only looked at Pierre in a challenging manner.
Pierre wished he could just leave, but they had piqued his interest when they mentioned his mother. All those locked up memories of the past came crushing down on him, and he gritted his teeth, damning the curiosity within him. There was no way he'd come back to this place later.
"That wasn't so hard, wasn't it?" Parker flashed a pearly teeth at him in a mocking voice.
Pierre didn't bother replying. He appraised the man before him, ignoring the other occupants watching them silently.
They had been close, he remembered.
His older brother may have had a knack for teasing and annoying people but he didn't remember Parker being cynical and full of mockery. He thought the air felt heavy with bitterness and resentment, though he couldn't be certain if it came from him or them.
He felt like a stranger. All of them did. Pierre resist looking at the person who was the most closest to him then, no doubt was watching his every move like an invisible spectator now.
Everyone had changed.
But Parker seemed to change drastically in the last eight years, and Pierre felt a dull stab in his heart.
Before he could drown in the old sentiments, he cleared his throat and said, "Well?"
Katya moved forward and said, almost wearily, "Just take a sit, Pierre. We haven't seen you in years and the least you could do now is listen."
He stared at Katya's pleading face long before nodding briskly.
Parker smirked and Pierre narrowed his eyes at him. His eyes scanned the room towards the other occupant, and he said, "What are you looking at? Got a problem with me?" Pierre's accent had thickened with irritation.
Max had been looking at Pierre, and he found it a little unnerving. The other boy only smiled at him, his tone condescending. "You sound like those ulichnyye panki. What do they call it in English?" He wondered out loud before saying, "Ah, yes. A street punk."
Pierre glowered and he took a step toward him, but Katya stepped forward and put a hand to his chest. To Max, she said, "Dostatochno! We didn't ask him to come here so you could fight like ten year olds."
Max shot his gaze at her and Pierre could see a quiet fury in his eyes. "Ten year olds? He acts like he knows and owns everything. Besides, I didn't ask him to come here, you did."
Katya pinned him with a hard stare. "That's beside the point." Then, she soften her gaze. "Pozhaluysta, Maksimillian."
Max stared at his pleading cousin, before glancing at a confused but wary Pierre. Finally, he looked away and sighed, sweeping his arm in a gesture that meant to 'get on with this' to Katya.
Parker, who had been quietly watching the exchange with a barely concealed amusement on his face, finally spoke. "Alright, now that we're done with the introductions, let's get some dinner, shall we?"
They all stared at each other for five seconds before moving towards the dining room. On the marble table were various dishes, all steaming hot and looking delicious. There were pizza and spaghetti, and some others which made Pierre feel a stab of homesickness for Russia, one that he hadn't felt in a long time. There were borscht, pelmeni, black bread, beef Stroganov, pirozkhi, and even medovik.
It reminded him of home. Of the time when they were all together. Of his mother.
Again, all of this reminded him of why he was called to this place and he felt his frustration rise.
He wondered then who prepared all of this. Did they do this on purpose? He eyed them all; Max seemed to hate him so it couldn't be him who was thoughtful enough to get all of this. And Pierre didn't know Parker anymore to gauge whether he would do something like this. His best bet would be Katya since she seemed to show effort in pulling him into this family feud, even though he tried to avoid her.
And if she did, where did she even get all of this at this hour? He didn't see any shops on his way here.
Despite his annoyance that she wouldn't leave him alone, he also felt grateful enough that she seemed to be considerate and thoughtful towards him. Pierre hadn't felt comfortable being with a family – even though they're his family, except with his cousins in Scotland – due to his parent's separation. He was completely detached from them all, and he loathe to admit it, but Pierre had no clue of how to behave with them now.
Thoughts came and went while Katya volunteered to bring the dishes around, but one did stuck in his mind. It seemed as though Katya and Max were both staying with Parker in this grand place, and for a brief moment, he couldn't help the stab of jealousy at the thought of them eating these familiar food together – the food his mother used to make for them all.
Even Parker, whose parents were Scottish American, but were raised by Pierre's mother seemed to resonate more with his Russian family.
I feel like I don't belong anywhere.
"Tea or coffee?' Katya asked him, snapping him out of his thoughts. He realised both Parker and Max were looking at him oddly.
He ignored them but managed to catch a smirk from Parker and a frown from Max. "Tea."
And so the strange family of four ate in silence. For about five minutes.
"Isn't this nice?" Katya broke the silence, smiling widely and sipping her tea while looking at them all.
Parker returned her smile with a grin, and for a miniscule moment, Pierre recognised that familiar boyishness he remembered of his older but half-brother, several years ago when they were younger.
"It is. I believe the last meal we all had together was years ago, when we went for a picnic on the beach. Isn't that right, Pierre?" Parker turned to look at Pierre.
He remembered that day and nodded slowly, continuing eating the first food he chose, a piece of the black bread quietly. He thought Parker would stop at that, but it seemed his older brother was only warming up.
"What's with the little portion, little brother? Go on and help yourself, Pierre. We all know how much you love borscht and medovik, besides that bread." Then he chuckled. "Milena loves to spoil us all, especially you two." Parker grinned at both Pierre and Max. Katya smiled fondly at the memory.
Max tried to suppress a genuine smile but it seemed strained on his face.
Pierre couldn't take it anymore. He couldn't sit there and pretend like what happened in the past didn't matter. His jaw ticked and before he knew it, he blurted the words he tried to forget.
"What, you mean the woman who abandoned me?" He shot at them, words leaving a hot trail behind them.
Parker's expression changed and Katya looked at him in disbelief, but no one expected Max's outburst.
"How you dare you speak of her like that! Ty nevezhestvenen – "
"That's enough!" Parker roared and the air stilled. He shot them both a steely gaze before saying quietly to Pierre, "Is it really hard for you to see us again, bràthair beag?"
Even in his anger, Pierre recognised the hurt he heard in Parker's voice, and suddenly he felt like a nine year old. The little boy who hadn't built a wall around his heart, the kid who still saw everything through rose-coloured glass. And if he hadn't already missed both Scotland and Russia, hearing Parker called him that in Gaelic suddenly made him feel very lost.
"I don't know," He answered wearily. He was tired of feeling angry all the time, and he was confused as to why they suddenly wanted him back in their lives. "Why are you doing this?"
Pierre looked at them in frustrated helplessness. And just like that, the other three occupants glanced at one another with a sharp steel of determination. The looks on their faces as Parker asked him the next question further pushed him into an abyss of confusion.
Katya looked at him almost pitifully, Max shook his head at him with clear hurt in his eyes, although Pierre didn't know what or who caused that sudden look in them.
Parker, whose jaw was tight earlier ticked again, before he asked, "What have athair told you?"
Although the date happened three days ago, December still couldn't believe it happened.
That she had actually went on a date with Zachary Wong. It had felt surreal as though she was still on the cloud and hadn't set foot on ground.
It was wonderful, and she had thoroughly enjoyed it, especially when they talked through the night at the ice cream parlour.
The movie had just finished and the both of them were still in town, walking side by side in a mindless stroll. They still had two hours before their curfew.
"Can you believe that she was three hundred years old? Maybe more! Oh, I love the movie. And the song." December gushed about the new movie they had just seen.
Zach chuckled and nodded. "Yes, that was awesome. And the whole fighting scene was just..." he made a mind-blown gesture and sound, and December's eyes lit up more in excitement. "One of my favourites."
"Yes! That was definitely one of my favourite scenes, too. Great minds think alike, eh?" She grinned at him, nudging his shoulder twice before she reminded herself to be more proper.
While she knew she was not elegant and gentle such as girls like Serena, she still wanted to be on her best behaviour. Possibly, because Zach reminded her of those noble lords and ladies in the books she'd read. Of genteel men and women she'd seen in movies and books.
She also felt like shaking herself into reality, because she needed to stop referencing her life with those romance novels already.
The point she was trying to make to herself was that, she felt an urge to make him see that she was more than an archery board committee, than just a girl. She wanted him to have the best impression of her.
"Indeed," He replied, sounding thoughtful but delighted at the discovery.
There were still people milling around, on the streets and in the shops as cars and other vehicles wheezed past them, each minding their business as the night grew on.
December noticed the proximity of their hands touching; it was so close, that she wanted to just give in to her urge to brush her hands with his. But she didn't want to seem eager.
But you are eager to hold his hand, her conscious mind pointedly reminded her.
That is true, she mused. She glanced at Zach, looking around and pointing places at her, noting some information that he knew to her and chuckling at some things that amused him. She felt herself smiling softly at him, eyes adoring him.
She still can't believe that she was going out with her long time crush, Zach. There had been many times she'd looked at him from a far, sometimes paying too much attention to what he was saying when they were in a discussion, and other times – most times – getting distracted by his presence. And now, she was standing beside him, on a date, hands touching one another in any second now…
Should she wait? They have been walking for twenty minutes now, and she had been waiting for him to take the lead. But what if he was shy?
She shook her head and muttered quietly to herself with a grin, "Well, I don't suppose there will be double standards in this date. Who says a girl can't initiate a gesture?"
Zach chose that moment to turn his gaze towards her and said, his eyes alight, "Hm? Did you say something, December?"
December shook her head, eyes wide as if caught red-handed. "Mm? Oh, nothing!"
Instead of braving herself to speak the words she wanted to say to him, she pointed to something that caught her attention and said, "Oh, look! There's an ice cream shop. Should we get some?"
He smiled, she beamed, and in they went, all thoughts about double standards and courage being lost in her happiness.
They had gotten their bowls of ice creams; December with two huge scoops of strawberry and vanilla with thick chunks of mango jellies topped with some dribble of syrup and Zach; having the same huge scoops of vanilla with chunks of bananas, and some sprinkles.
They both looked at one another, smiles spreading on their faces before attacking their desserts like kids in a candy store. It was one of the things she loved about tonight. She had even forgot to be prim and ladylike in that moment, which didn't seemed to bother Zach at all as he was immersed in his ice cream. She felt herself relax in the moment and not care about anything else.
"I know I've said this before, but I really think you look beautiful tonight. I mean, you've always looked beautiful but you know, tonight…" He was beginning to feel flustered and December noticed not only his cheeks were flushed, but his ears too.
She had to pipe down the urge to squeal at how cute Zach was and touch his face.
Although, she did giggle. Her outfit was a floral but black printed baby doll dress that ended a little above her knee and one that was chosen and fixed by Brooke and Raven – "not too skanky like 'please eat me up' and not too prudish either", Brooke had said with a smug look – and they paired her with her denim jacket and a pair of cherry red combat boots.
When she saw the dress, she immediately fell in love with it. It was pretty, and December had no clue why she hated to shop for dresses before. It fitted her snugly, the accentuation of her small waist, the flare of the skirt. The design of the heart shape on her neckline wasn't too low or too high, it rest perfectly which allowed a hint of cleavage to show. It wasn't too revealing or too covering at all, and despite Brooke's crude words, she had to agree with it.
December loved the entire look, and she loved her friends for choosing it.
"Well, that's very nice of you to say that. Thank you." She said shyly, tucking a few stray strand of hairs behind her ear.
Zach looked at her and smiled, his dimple became prominent every time he did that. "So…" he started before his phone rang. Thoughts shifted, he looked at her apologetically before fishing out his device.
He stared at it and bit his lip before saying to December, "I'm sorry, December but it's Sid. Do you mind if I take this?"
"Oh! Sure, of course, I don't mind." She waved him off with a beaming smile.
She wondered what Sid needed from Zach. Of course, they were best friends but that also meant that he knew Zach was on a date with her tonight, right?
She shook the thoughts out of her mind. I mustn't be selfish. He's his best friend, and I don't know what's going on. Best to not make any assumptions.
The call took about five minutes or less before Zach came back, his face cheery but still a little constrained. "Sorry for keeping you waiting."
December shook her head. "Did something happened? You look a little pale."
He blinked. "What? Oh. No. I mean, yeah. Well… I'm not sure if you know this but Sid had broken up with Fiona," At that, December gasped in surprise. Zach continued with a sympathetic nod. "Yeah, I know. Who would have thought of that, right? They're so good together. It seems like they were trying to get back together now but his parents threatened him or something."
"That's awful. What did he say?"
"It's more like what did he do." This time, he grinned and December felt her heart ease a little. "Let's just say that in his family, there's the line of 'you give some, and you take some.'"
December raised an eyebrow. "Well that sounds…very strict. And calculating."
"Yes, but Sid's a smart guy, and he was born in the family who upholds that motto. It may be tough but he knows how to manage things well. In some way, I admire that about him."
She chuckled. "I hope they'll be okay."
He nodded and pocketed his phone. "Knowing him? They will." Then, he said, "Let's talk about something else. Something that we haven't known about each other."
She paused to ponder in thought before saying, "Twenty One Questions?"
Zach nodded. "Ladies first."
She chuckled lowly. "Ever the gentleman. Okay, umm… if you had to choose between Chess and Archery for the rest of your life, which one would it be?"
He laughed lowly, and the sound made her heart leapt. "Oh, that's easy. Archery." He said with such certainty that December had to raised her eyebrow, her mouth quirked in amusement.
"I'm glad to know that you love our sport so much. Let me guess, got roped in to the club?"
He widened his eyes as if he couldn't believe she had just figured him out. "Wow, are you a psychic or something? That's impressive." He grinned and beckoned her closer. In a voice reserved for secrecy, he said, "By the vice president, to be exact."
She opened her mouth in surprise before eliciting a delightful laugh. It was the only sound that resonated in the empty parlour, drowning the quiet thrum of the music in the speakers.
They didn't notice that their curfew was nearing and that the shop was about to close, because they were both in their own moment, slowly basking in the pleasant night that seemed to grow long yet cut short.
She followed suit and leaned closer, faces almost close but not to the point of intruding their personal space. "That's very kind of you. But hey, by the many awards your club have received, you can't say you haven't developed a liking towards the game, can you?" She grinned, her eyes twinkled before she rolled them good-naturedly. "Oh, and I wish." She was referring to his earlier comment.
He threw his head back, and laughed before looking at her. He didn't think he had ever laugh so much in just a night.
Zach looked at December fondly. "You're cute, you know that? And yes, to answer your question, it would be hard not to. It's very addictive." He said matter-of-factly before breaking into a charming grin.
She shook her head and bit her lip shyly. He was intoxicating her and she was getting warmer. December needed to think of something else, and fast before she did something that would throw them both off-guard…like kissing him or something.
"I believe that it's your turn now." She said quietly, her smile almost guarded. Her throat was dry despite the sugary dessert, and she thought she may need some water. She asked for one just in case.
And at least one of her musings were right, because Zach was caught off guard, as if he had forgotten the purpose of their game and she was glad for that. But he had licked his lips and she tried her best not to glance at it. She really needed to control herself. Another inch closer and they would have breached each other's space.
And maybe experiencing the best kiss of her life.
Okay, no this is my first date, and even though I would love to kiss him, I don't think that's okay for first dates…right? Maybe I should watch out for some cues later.
"You're right, I forgot." His voice brought her back to planet Earth. "So, what about fears? Do you have any fears?"
She narrowed her eyes at him playfully. "Everyone has fears, Zach. But I think you meant to ask what, hm. Well…" she dragged the word and just like he did earlier, December beckoned him closer.
Once he did, she said to him, almost in a whisper, "The thing is, a lady never tells her weakness."
He drew back, shook his head and chuckled. "I thought that applies only to their age?"
She shook her head solemnly. "No, it applies to everything. Their height, favourite food, drinks, games, and yes, even their favourite sports."
He raised an eyebrow disbelievingly before narrowing them into suspicion. But his lips were smiling. "You're a humorous girl, now that's another thing I know about you."
She pretended to be hurt. "I thought you've always known that about me."
He winked at her, and she almost fell off her seat. Damn it, December, get it together.
"I guess you know another thing about me, too."
She was taken aback by his remark and could only shake her head at him, eyes lit up in immense joy and cheeks hurting from smiling too much. "Touché."
"In other words, checkmate."
She couldn't help it, she lost her composure and laughed. Laughed until there were tears in her eyes, laughed until he joined her.
After a while, they sobered up and December eventually relented. "Okay, I'll be fair in this. Well, let's see…one of my fears is...being laughed at. There, I've said it. Now, my turn." She uttered them in a rush and so cheerfully that it made Zach frowned, and December wanted to smooth the frown away, but she swallowed inaudibly and said, "So, what's your fear?"
His frown eased as he tilted his head at her before nodding. "I guess it is only fair. Alright, Miss Scarborough. Brace yourself now, because I'm going to indulge you in a grave secret of mine. Keep in mind, that should anyone be privy of this information, not only will my reputation suffer, but my pride as well."
He sounded theatrical, but December could hear a hint of anxiety as well as she composed a serious and focused look, despite her surprise in knowing that. But of course, even the most flawless seeming person have flaws too. It's human nature.
With a seriousness she could muster, she said, "Oh no, we certainly can't have that. But fear not, my kind sir, for your secret shall remain with me for all eternity." To emphasise the point, she nodded rigorously.
At that, Zach's face broke out into a soft smile. "For eternity, huh. That's a long time, December."
"But I mean what I said. Can't have the Captain be exposed to danger." She quipped before inquiring curiously, "So, what is it that you fear?"
"Flying. Which is ironic, because I've wanted to be a pilot for quite some time. But maybe I'm not cut out for that."
December stored the new information.
It delighted her in a way that she was learning new things about him, to see another side of him only she knew but it also made her feel sorry for him that he felt this way. She was learning new things about him, and him, hers but she didn't like how low he seemed to feel about it.
She wanted to lift him up, to see that beautiful and confident smile on his face.
She hesitated at first, but decided to plough on. Her hand were inches away from his, and with a sudden courage, she grasped it. It was bigger than hers and soft, although it had some rough edges to it. No doubt caused by years being an archer. But December loved the feel of his hand in hers.
"You could overcome it." She said gently.
December bit her lip, unsure if he would subtly take his hand out or –
Zach smiled at her, albeit a little sad, but his hand stayed firm in her grip and she felt her heart soar when he rubbed her knuckles softly. "It's not as easy as it sounds, though December."
She nodded and said truthfully, "I know, Zach. But if it's you, I know you can do it. I believe in you." Just to drive those words home, she squeezed his hand with assurance.
They stared at each other long, and December suddenly felt as though she was being pulled towards him. When she realised that both of their faces were coming closer, the store clerk came to their table and mention that they were closing.
At the mention of the time, they both sobered up and left the parlour, albeit reluctantly. Despite that, occasionally they would chuckle at the things they had said and shared in the shop. They walked until Zach's driver arrived to fetch them back to the academy, and they talked through the drive.
Back at the academy, Zach and December were making a quiet journey towards her dormitory. They were certain they would be caught by the guardians of their dorms, but with luck on their side, they wouldn't get caught because they arrived ten minutes earlier before curfew.
"Sucks that we have curfew, huh." December started, breaking their peaceful walk.
Zach hummed in acknowledgement. "I agree. I had so much fun tonight. If only we have all the night to ourselves, the amount of things we could do would be countless."
He didn't mean for it to sound the way it did, she was sure, but having friends like Brooke and Jethro, December couldn't help the unbidden and traitorous flush that warmed her cheeks and body. She willed herself to focus on the actual meaning of what she thought he meant to say.
Because Zach must not have meant to say something that wasn't filed with innuendos. She didn't think it was like him.
And sure enough, he froze in his steps and December knew now what would happen next.
"Uh, wait. That suddenly sounded…not what I intended it to sound like. I hope you know that I didn't mean it in that way, December." Zach looked at her apologetically, his face flushed with embarrassment.
She couldn't help it. December giggled at the foolishness of the situation. "Of course, Zach. Don't worry about it."
He nodded and smiled, looking down at the cobbled steps leading towards the nearing dorm, before looking back at her.
"Thanks for going out with me tonight, December."
They were now steps away from the dormitory, a little shaded by the big tree above them, the lamp post near the thick trunk casting a soft orange glow to their shadows. December halted in her steps.
Did she hear him right? She thought so and if possible, she wanted to melt then.
She couldn't find the right words at first. She opened her mouth, closed, and opened them again, this time having found what she wanted to tell him.
With a gentle look, she smiled lovingly at him, "It's my pleasure, Zach. I really enjoyed our date."
The wind picked up and swept the dry leaves on the ground, the tree leaves rustling, its ancient rhythm of dancing to the wind never changing. The moon was bright, but by the faint scent of the earth in the air, there was the possibility of rain tonight.
Zach took a step closer to December and her heart skipped a beat. Maybe this is the cue, she thought to herself.
She wanted to move but found her feet frozen. He was getting closer now; close enough that she could see his lidded eyes, and that beautiful long lashes of his, close enough that she could trace the shape of his lips, to feel the ghost of it, close enough to taste the smell of his cologne, to –
Lighting struck the sky, and seconds later, a loud boom of thunder were heard.
And just like that, the spell was broken. Surprised, they bumped and hit onto each other's foreheads, looking then chuckling quietly, glancing away from one another. Embarrassed at being startled.
The moment may have been broken, but December was storing the events that happened tonight till right at that very moment in her memory. She wanted to cherish and dream it.
"Well, I think you'd best get in before Hilda finds us out here." Zach said, his voice scratchy and he cleared his throat.
December chuckled softly. "Right. Well, thank you for tonight, Zach."
He smiled deeply, and nodded. Then, he leaned in slowly, his eyes meeting hers as he whispered, "May I kiss you?"
Eyes wide, she found herself in a trance. She licked her suddenly dry lips and when she could not find her voice, she only nodded and mouthed, 'yes'.
Zach smiled and leaned closer. December's eyes were starting to flutter close, but before she could actually close her eyes, Zach planted a soft yet firm kiss on her cheek and her eyes widened in surprise.
A pleasant, warm and full of tingle surprise.
"Good night, December."ns 18.104.22.168da2