They hadn’t yet sensed me – they were a little too involved in one another to notice anybody nearby. Certain of nothing else, I backed out of the hall and around the corner. I pressed myself against the wall, my chest tight, wishing I could soak into the wallpaper and cease to exist. Maybe I already had, at least to Sylvester. I’d been very, very stupid. I’d been told, hadn’t I, that Sylvester was seeing Xanthe? And stupid, stupid me had ignored the warnings and listened only to his sweet talk. Stupid, stupid… I slid down the wall a little, covering my eyes with my fingertips. Maybe I could press back those tears that were burning the back of my throat, threatening to spill from my eyes and down my face.
My breathing was constricted by the tightness in my lungs. It was more like lung-break than heartbreak, I thought vaguely, although it was true that heartbreak was a much more romantic term. Stupid, stupid girl, how did you not see this coming?
And how do you walk away? I just knew the second I took a step, I'd land right on a creaky floorboard or some other traitorous feature of the house, and they'd stop kissing long enough to look around the corner, and they'd see me, and this would all get worse oh god... I pressed my fingertips harder into my eyes, beyond embarrassed, beyond miserable with the situation, and certainly beyond paying attention to my surroundings.
Quite suddenly, my comfortable position against the wall was interrupted by an arm sliding between my shoulders and the wallpaper, and then I was walking beside someone considerably taller. For a crazy instant I thought it might be Sylvester, and recoiled, trying to pull away from the arm still slung around my shoulders, but then I came to my senses and recognised the presence beside me as someone much more welcome.
“Don’t you dare cry,” Addison said, steering me towards the stairs. “I think I’d be forced to slap you. And that might look bad, given you’d already be crying.”
His tone was light and careful, but his mood was sour. He was going to genuine efforts to keep his anger from me. I managed a tight breath despite my own intense feelings and created enough room inside myself for a bubble of pure gratitude to form, and it held, even when I exhaled shakily.
“You tried to warn me,” I said with a forced smile, my voice coming out sing-songy in an instinctual defence against breaking down in sobs. Addison’s arm tightened on my shoulders and I felt his anger shudder under his façade as he replied in the same playful cadence.
“Yes I did.” He loosened his grip on me when we reached the steps so our mismatched heights didn’t send us tumbling down together. "I'll let that suffice for 'I told you so'."