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Overwrought and Undercompensated
October 6th, 2013 
Always tense
After some discussion on an excerpt of what I've been working on over at WriteandGripe, I made some changes that didn't fit in a comment, so I'll just post it here. This is the rewrite of my first post section there.

~~

Every time. Every single time he looked at her like that, panic fluttered in her chest and she said something completely ridiculous.

“I’m so glad we’re keeping things casual. Uncomplicated. Everything’s perfect just the way it is.”

Only, it wasn’t. She didn’t believe one word that poured out of her own damn mouth when she got like this. She didn’t want uncomplicated. She didn’t want casual. What she wanted wasn’t even that far from what they already had, if she’d just stop deflecting him every time he looked like he wanted to talk about THEM.

They’d been having a great night of nothing special, snuggled up on her couch watching whatever they could find on television, talking about everything and nothing, laughing.

“I cannot believe you’d side with HER,” she exclaimed, gesturing toward the television as the show abruptly cut to the credits.

“What?” Tucker replied, his brow furrowing as he pulled a leg up on the couch, turning so his back was against the arm to face her beside him. “All I said was that I can understand why she’d be upset about what he did.”

Natalie twisted at the waist, leaning her shoulder into the back of the couch, and studied him a moment. “You’re serious.” It wasn’t a question.

A confused grimace flashed across his face before he nodded slowly, a smirk just beginning to pull at the corner of his mouth. “You really don’t like her, do you?

“Ugh,” she huffed. “It’s that actress. I can’t feel sympathy toward a single character she plays. Can’t explain it.”

He smiled then, a bright thing that caught her off guard, made her heart beat a little too hard in her chest. She turned, busying herself with deleting the episode off the DVR, wishing for the moment to pass quickly before she said something stupid again.

“Now that you mention it, you do react negatively every time she turns up in something. What did she do to earn such a visceral reaction, I wonder?”

She could feel his eyes on her, could see his inquisitive grin in her peripheral vision, knew she’d run out of busy work. Leaning forward, she dropped the remote on the coffee table and took her time settling back against the couch as she spoke. “Honestly, my first memory of seeing her act in something is just this visceral hatred from the moment she was on screen.”

He hummed, an unformed question intended to keep her talking, and she lifted her eyes back to his.

“I know it’s weird. I just can’t with her. She. Ugh. Seriously, I just see her face and I want to punch it and she’s probably a very nice person, but.” Natalie shrugged.

Tucker nodded, an eyebrow raised, his gaze intent as he waited for her story to continue.

God, what did he expect her to say? It really was that simple. She didn’t like the actress. But here he was, looking for all the world like he thought he’d get some get confession out of her, some deep-seated something, when really, she just couldn’t stand her. End of story.

“Well,” she said, gesturing toward the clock on the cable box. “It’s too late for a movie and the DVR is empty. Want to find something short on demand?”

The silence dragged out several breaths and she tensed, flexing her fingers in her lap with the effort to stay put.

He blinked as if he’d lost the conversation for a moment. “Uh, nah. Don’t feel like watching anything.”

“So,” she started, her voice rising at the end like a question. “Is there something else you’d like to do?”

His eyes raked over her and she was suddenly too warm in her sweatshirt. As she unzipped it and pulled it roughly down her arms, she purred, “Oh, I see. I should have asked if there was some ONE you wanted to do.”

Tucker’s eyes settled on hers once again, this time boring through her with so many emotions swirling in them that she had to close her eyes to the onslaught. Her heart was suddenly hammering in her chest, her fight or flight response screaming “RUN!”, a reaction she could no more explain than her hatred of a particular actress. This was Tucker. He wasn’t going to hurt her. Why on Earth was her instinct to run when he looked at her like this?

He took a deep breath and she could see he was about to say something BIG. Something IMPORTANT. Something about them and this fragile thing between them that was everything she needed, and suddenly she couldn’t breathe. She gasped and shot to her feet, pacing across the room before he could capture her hand.

“Oh, wait. I just remembered. I need to get up earlier than usual tomorrow, so we should really get to bed at a decent hour, you know?” She turned to face him, holding her breath and braced for a fight.

He rose, eyes still drilling into her with so much intensity. “Nat.”

She stepped into him quickly, cutting him off with a finger on his lips. “You know what’s great? If we were dating, this would be awkward. Me pressing for sleep on what would be a date night. This just might be the perfect arrangement.”

He attempted to hide the wince, the physical recoil from her too-loud declarations of contentment with the current arrangement, but she saw the way his eyes lost their light as he pulled back into himself and shoved whatever it was he wanted to say back down where it came from.

She kissed him quickly and moved toward the stairs, already mentally kicking herself for once again deflecting him. And yet, her heart rate was already coming back down toward a brisk walk, her breaths coming with less effort. Crisis averted after all.

Nothing about this was the least bit fair to him. So far, in the three months they’d been together, she’d managed to cut him off and shut him down every time it seemed he was about to bring up their... Relationship? Could it be called that if she never let him talk about them and consistently bent the truth about her own feelings on the matter? If only she knew for sure which side he came down on- for or against them taking things past this crazy limbo they hovered in. Until she did, she would deflect and make him make a stand if ending it was what he wanted.
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