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They'd been walking almost five minutes before Elliot realized just how hungry he was; it was reasonable, he supposed, given that he'd thrown up earlier. He and Emma trailed behind the group; it only seemed natural. Periodically, Patrick would glance back at them, and Elliot would scowl at the smug look of accomplishment on his friend's face.
This was really happening. This girl--this thought-monopolizing Aphrodite that had haunted both his dreams and days for weeks now--was walking right beside him for a second time. Speaking to him once more. He was even speaking back to her when not giggling like an idiot at everything she said.
God, he was stupid... but he hardly could care.
He was too excited--too happy. She had already dispelled his concerns about her appearance; that someone so beautiful would have to be an arrogant cur. She was sweet and smart and beautiful. If nothing else, he'd never heard anyone other than himself use the word "trenchancy" before. That alone was fascinating.
"Your friend--Patrick--he's already a rock star," Emma observed.
Elliot laughed for the hundredth time. Patrick, who didn't own a guitar case and placed no trust in the club employees or Ryan's car locks, had brought his guitar with him on the walk. It was slung across his back like a sword in its sheath.
"He's always been a rock star," Elliot mused. "He just didn't have a band before."
"He's an amazing player," she added.
"And your singing was wonderful."
He shrugged uncomfortably.
"It was," she insisted.
He laughed again. "Just how awkward did I actually look up there?"
"Oh please." She scoffed. "You looked just fine."
"You don't believe me?" She was again incredulous.
"Maybe you just weren't watching that closely."
"You were the center of all my attention," she replied emphatically.
All he could do was blush at the idea. Typically when Elliot went silent, it was because he was too meek to say what was really on his mind, but right now it was different. He felt terrified that he would say something stupid and foolish and be instantly dismissed by Emma as, well, a stupid fool. Now that his abject terror at the notion of a stage performance was waning, there was enough room in his stomach for a new knot to be tied by Emma, and it was somehow worse, however elating.
"Have you been to the Landing before?" she asked, changing the subject.
"No." He shook his head quickly. "This is only my second time to Jacksonville."
She nodded. "There's not much to see here, I'm afraid."
Elliot didn't care what there was to see or do--all his focus was upon Emma. They could have been in Times Square or on the moon for all he cared--it wouldn't have shaken his interest. Just like the first time he'd seen her though, she seemed to wish she was invisible. Getting a good look at her face was impossible; it always seemed to be turned away, or conveniently hidden by hair. She was also wearing far more concealor and eye makeup than was necessary for someone with such naturally startling beauty. Each time he did manage to catch a decent glimpse of her in the glow of the street lights, he felt ill all over again. Each time he prepared to speak, he again had to face his fear that he would say something to turn her off to him forever. He wanted nothing more than to impress her, but unlike Patrick, he had little experience with things like that.
The group turned off of the street and passed through a bustling sea of shoppers and diners. Before too long, they were right on the river. Between the ship-filled waters before them, the skyscrapers behind them, the events of the evening and the beautiful girl at Elliot's side, he had never felt further away from home, school, or reality. He was free, for tonight anyway, from monotony--from repetition.