17.0 Scarlett's Art Of Holding Him Together

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Stirring sugar in my coffee and wishing there was more cream to add, I keep my eyes fixed on the swirling liquid. Mira and William continue to chat about mundane aspects of life I have no interest in, such as which TV show is running a marathon and which Instagram model has received the greatest likes on his nudes. The discussion transforms into a sort-of argument with Mira calling William a hypocrite for Re-Tweeting some political text that Mira disagreed with.

I sigh unnoticeably, and neither my friends seem to notice, bickering over their mugs of coffee while continuing to smile in a way that was more intimate than I want to witness.

"Scarlett."

The soft voice beside me startles me awake. Looking up, I see the familiar face of Aiden, his sad hazel eyes and dark hair pushed back. I get to my feet, smiling automatically as I lift my arms to wrap them around his waist and bury my face briefly in the crook of his neck. He stiffens before relaxing slightly.

"What are you doing here?" I mumble against his skin, closing my eyes and taking a whiff of his familiar scent: musk cologne and car diesel.

"Stalking you, by the looks of it," Mira perks up behind me.

Her voice is enough to cause Aiden's body to become rigid again.

Thanks a lot, Mira.

"Is this going to be how we meet every time?" I ask Aiden with a teasing smile. "You disappearing for days and then surprising me like this?"

What I want to do is make Aiden smile. I miss it, the beautiful grin that causes his eyes to sparkle and my heart to speed up.

He doesn't smile, his eyes dull and drooping.

"Can we talk?" he asks, his voice nearly drowned out by the ruckus all around us.

"Of course," I say, unsure of what to expect from him.

"You can join us, Aiden," Mira voices. "Unless you guys want to find somewhere more private."

"Mira, shut up," I say, glancing back at her. "Let's go, Aiden."

I reach out to take Aiden's hand but -- assuming it's because he doesn't notice and is preoccupied with whatever is on his mind -- he turns around and begins walking towards the exit.

"That was uncalled for," I hear William say to Mira.

I don't speak even though I agree, following Aiden after shaking my head towards Mira.

As I make it out into the open parking lot outside the café, I see him standing next to his car, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. Dust rises when he rubs his shoes against the ground, and I watch his eyes darting around and the stiffness in his shoulders. Just by the look of it, he seems anxious, something I haven't seen since I first met Aiden. Seeing him now -- walking in front of me in a gray round-neck with long sleeves and black jeans -- I can almost see the black jacketed guy I had met over six months ago.

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