Chapter 6: Twenty-One Days Left

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"I would do anything for such a captivating lady such as yourself." I said, smiling wider, cockier.

"Please. That's such an old line." She laughed, blushing, but I knew that she loved it. Lani wasn't one to turn down a compliment, but she never seemed ready for one either. She never asked for one, like some of the women I was used to. She genuinely didn't believe that she deserved half—if not all—of them, but I could tell that she loved when I said those things to her.

"I only say it with you." I told her.

"That's what they all say." She winked at me, and nudged me with her elbow. "You're quite the charmer, lover boy."

"I have to be." I sighed dramatically. "It's a part of the job description."

"What job description? You have a job?" she teased.

"The one where I have to look after you." I winked at her. "Takes up all my free time." She giggled, holding her hand in front of her mouth, trying to hide her laughter.

"Oh please, I think you've got things mixed up. There is no way that you have to look after me." She laughed, shoving me playfully.

"You're right!" I sighed dramatically again, putting the back of my hand on my forehead and feigned exhaustion. "I can't keep going! It's just too much!" She laughed so hard we had to stop because she couldn't walk. I felt my entire body—my heart and soul—fill with joy and happiness. I loved getting her to smile and laugh and tease me back. I chuckled next to her as she slowly regained her composure. A smile still stretched across her perfect lips—ones that I still wanted to kiss. She rolled her eyes at me, but seemed unable to stop smiling so it lost its desired effect.

"You dog." She laughed and shook her head at me as we started walking again.

"I've been downgraded to a dog?" I gasped theatrically.

"Well, you do follow me around." She pointed out, but was smiling the whole time.

"Oh, your words hurt." I laughed, holding my palm over my heart.

"You are so dramatic." She smiled. "You sure you want to go into business and not acting?"

"Act? Me? I can be dramatic—at least with you—but I can't do that stuff in front of a crowd." I shook my head.

"Why not?" she asked, genuinely wanting to know. "You're good."

"I'm good in front of you but other people...not so much."

"But you're so out going. You're the most popular guy in school, how could you not be able to do that in front of a crowd?" she asked.

"That's different." I said, stopping and turning towards her. "That's just the way I look and talk. How I present myself. With acting...it's more than that. It's a form of art that comes from your heart and soul. I don't think that I could let myself be that...vulnerable in front of people I don't know. Or those I do know for that matter."

"I understand." She nodded, but neither of us made any move to continue towards the school.

"Can I ask you something, Lani?" I said suddenly. What are you doing?

"Sure." She said softly, as if she was almost afraid of what I was going to ask.

"What do you want out of life?"

"I..." she trailed off and stared at me for a moment before she found her voice again. "I want to live."

"Willow

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"Willow." I called to her from the end of the hallway. Willow immediately stopped and slowly turned around, giving me a hesitant look. "I just want to talk to you for a second, please." She nodded jerkily, as if she wasn't sure how to take my sudden need to speak with her. "It's about Lani."

"Is she okay? What happened? Did something happen?" she asked quickly, suddenly looking panicked.

"No, she's alright. Nothing happened." I said reassuringly, palms out to her. "I just want to know what's going on between you two."

"That's not really any of your business, Xavier, especially if she hasn't already told you." She said.

"She just seems different around you, Willow. Plus, I think there's something you should know."

"Something I should know? What do you mean?" she asked, concerned.

"I overheard her...the other night when she ran out of your apartment building crying?" Willow nodded, but suddenly looked a mixture of guilt, shame and sadness. "She started...listing things off."

"Oh no." Willow whispered sadly. "You heard her, didn't you?" I nodded. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because, part of her list was to never take any risks, but today...I asked her what she wanted in life. Do you know what she told me?" she shook her head no. "She said that she wants to live." Willow gasped and stared up at me with such hope and sadness in her eyes it was almost overwhelming.

"S-she wants to live?" she asked in a mere whisper. I nodded. "That's...wow. I can't believe she said that." A smile spread across her face, practically reaching her ears.

"What happened to her?" I asked her before I could stop myself. I wanted to know so I could help her. So I could be there with her more than just physically. If she let me into her heart, I would make sure I would never leave. I didn't want to leave her as it was.

"I can't really tell you that Xavier. But I can tell you that she's been through a lot. More than someone her age should have to endure. Even before now. Thankfully it's died down...but that doesn't mean that she still isn't scarred for life." She sighed, as if the weight of the world were on her shoulders. "She won't talk about anything that's happened with anyone. I only know because I was there for most of it. I know there are some things that I'm sure she doesn't want to tell me...but I'm hoping one day she will. Or maybe, she'll tell you one day. Just let everything out. She has to talk about it, but that's one of her rules. Don't talk about it. Everything has to be in her control with no risks. And I think that those rules of hers are constraining her. Now...now I think she may realize that too. Or at least...partially."

"I want her to feel like she can talk to me. About everything, but I don't know how to tell her that." I sighed. I knew that Lani was stubborn and set in her ways, but maybe Willow was right. Maybe she went farther than that. Perhaps everything that she told herself in order to keep things 'normal' weren't really helping her get past whatever happened to her. I knew that I couldn't just drag it from her, but that didn't mean that I wasn't going to try to get her to talk to me. Or at least, comfortable enough with me to start opening up more to me. There was still so much I didn't know about her and I wanted to know everything there was to know.

"Maybe just keep talking about yourself. I don't think she knows how to really let you in yet unless she truly knows you. And I know that she wants to get to know you better."

"I thought you two weren't talking?" I asked.

"We're not, but that doesn't mean I don't know what's going on. Sometimes she doesn't have to tell me. It's in the way she acts. Every day when I see her at home, she seems...happier than I've seen her in a while. You're doing that, Xavier. She may not entirely realize it yet, but she loves hanging out with you and learning about you. I can tell that you're becoming a part of her life and she's glad." Willow said softly, smiling at me warmly. 

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