He thought that with Carly, he could find love. He thought that with Sam, he could find love. But he couldn’t find what he already had. She thought it best to remind him. Everything just got escalated.

“So. Seattle.”


Jade sighed heavily to herself. “Three days. I called it.”

Freddie, though how dark the situation was, chuckled. “Yes, you did.”

“This… sucks.”

“I’ll come back. Soon.”

“It still sucks.”

The girl with green tips closed her eyes, her passive expression more firm than ever. She winced at the soft lips that touched her forehead for a small second. Normally, she wasn’t much of a fan of public displays of affection, but… she allowed it this time.

Hell, if she ever got the chance again…

She opened her eyes and locked on to Freddie’s curious brown ones. A smirk flitted across her face.

He raised his eyebrows. “What’s up?”

“I like that you’re nervous whenever I smile.” Her smirk grew.

“Not usually. I guess I’ve developed a sixth sense around you.”

Jade chuckled, and reached up to touch his jawline, before gripping his shoulder. She pulled up and pressed her lips to his.

The position was uncomfortable at best, so she held on as long as she could before falling back, her head moving back to his chest.

She didn’t catch Freddie’s pleased smile, closing her eyes in embarrassment.

“Th… that was…”

“Me, too.”

Freddie sat back against the tree and wrapped his hands around his best friend. The ebony-haired girl brought her hands up and wrapped her arms to herself, covering his. He smiled at her possessiveness. Though, technically, they didn’t own each other – not officially.

He wiggled his toes a little, to keep the circulation in his legs – they had been sitting together like this for at least twenty minutes – and reflected on the past three days.

He and Jade had been nearly inseparable for the past eight years. Just the thought of not seeing her every day was ludicrous.

But, as his mom had told him, it was very much happening. And in one day, no less.

She had warned him of the job application she sent to Seattle a month ago, and it was something he dismissed readily. She had been applying for nursing jobs across the country for years now, and they had never left the Los Angeles area – or rather, not even the same house.

And then, she finally got a callback. Two days ago.

The day after he made a proposal to Jade.

He colored a little at the wording, but it was what Jade called it. Fair enough, it was a proposal of sorts; he had never proposed before, but he certainly felt as nervous as the actors looked in those romance movies. Maybe, in hindsight, it was out of the blue. For Freddie, the timing couldn’t have been better.


[8:32 AM] F: Jade?

[8:34 AM] J: When you send someone a text message, there’s supposed to be an actual message attached. What’s up, Freddie?

[8:35 AM] F: I like you.

[8:35 AM] J: Who is this?

[8:36 AM] F: You password-protected my phone, Jade. I never removed it. jaderox. It’s me.

[8:36 AM] J: Where is this coming from?

[8:36 AM] F: Can we do this in person?

[8:37 AM] J: What do you mean by liking me? Tell me, or I’m calling you right now.

[8:37 AM] F: More than a friend, and I can’t do this over the phone.

[8:38 AM] J: How long?

[8:39 AM] F: Since I met you, more-or-less. Do you hate me now?

[8:41 AM] J: Did you just REJECT my call?

[8:41 AM] F: You didn’t answer my text. I can’t bear it if you yell at me.

[8:41 AM] J: I have never yelled at you before, Freddie. Check your voicemail.

[8:44 AM] J: Please.

[8:48 AM] F: Did you really mean all of that?

[8:49 AM] J: Every single word. Does that sound like I hate you?

[8:49 AM] F: Can we please meet up?

[8:49 AM] J: I suppose this conversation would have been better person-to-person.

[8:50 AM] F: That’s what I’ve been saying.

[8:50 AM] J: Smartass. Playground?

[8:50 AM] F: Can’t think of a better place.

When the two reunited, under the tree in the park, the pair was unsure of what to do next. They usually met up here, and whatever they did for the rest of the day was decided on what they felt.

Jade stepped up first, and surprising them both, she hugged him.

It was the first time she had ever hugged him in public. It felt… nice.

She gripped tightly to him, her black-painted nails digging into the back of his shirt. After a small moment of indecision, she leaned up and kissed him on the cheek.

She stepped back, and grinned at his shocked expression. “Better than yelling, huh?”

Freddie mentally shook himself out of his stupor, grinning at his friend. “Yeah… but could you blame me?”

Her smirk dropped a little. “Freddie, I’d never yell at you. I literally yell at everyone else except you.”

“Yeah, but – ”

“But nothing.” She paused, and frowned fully. “I was worried about the same thing. You don’t yell at anyone, and I always thought if I dropped a bomb like that on you… I wouldn’t know how you’d respond.” Her eyes were filled with uncertainty. “If anything, I thought this would be too weird.”

Freddie smiled. “Our friendship is weird, or so I’ve heard. What’s another layer?”

Her frown stayed on her face. If anything, she was more uncertain. “Freddie – Are you… are you sure you want to do this?”

He crossed his arms. “Of course. You?”

Her lips quirked upwards. “Of course. Fair warning. I give it a few days before you come to your senses.”

“I give it a week for you to come to yours.” He reached forward, and grasped her hand in his. She squeaked, and after a fierce internal debate, her hand stopped trembling. Only after she stopped, did he remove his hand. “I have more faith in me.”

She swatted his shoulder. “Ass.”

Freddie jumped away, and chuckled. “And the clock starts!”

“Only three stupid days,” she muttered, suddenly feeling sick.

That broke Freddie out of his muse. He glanced down at the beautiful girl, her eyes still closed.

He was more than pissed… almost brimming with anger at the turn of events that had transpired in his life – but when he looked at Jade, pleased or not, he couldn’t help but think, that somehow, someway, it was going to turn out well for them.

He had spent most of yesterday packing, wondering to himself how he was going to tell Jade. Her phone had finally broken down on her, after a long, arduous shelf-life of four years, and she had chosen that day to go get her ears pierced, with her mom’s permission.

Halfway through the day, he came up with an idea.

He reached behind him stealthily, and pulled out a box. He gently pressed the box on her chest, into the crook of their intertwined arms.

Jade’s eyes opened in surprise. “What the…?” She got a closer look at the small, plain box. She lazily reached up and grabbed the box. “What’s this?”

“A TekMate,” he blurted, before he grimaced. “Though I wanted you to open it first…”

“Thank you,” she said quickly, and before she could stop herself, she smiled brightly up at him.

It was a rare occasion to see Jade give a full-on smile. In fact, he could count on one hand the amount of times he saw such a bright smile on her face. One of them was when she found her Demo CD in his CD player, several months after she gave it to him. Another was her response to the pure joy on his face after seeing The Scissoring for the first time, at the mom-and-pop theatre Halloween marathon screenings.

Every time she smiled like that, he wondered how he was ever lucky enough to associate with her, let alone for her to consider him a friend.

She looked back at the box in her hand and removed the top of it. She took out the black and silver piece of hardware from the box and put the wrapping to the side, on the blanket they were sitting on. “Was it expensive?”

He lightly rested his chin on the top of her head. “No, not really. It was a suggestion from mom, actually.”

Jade perked up, and looked at him incredulously. “Mama Benson likes me?”

Freddie frowned. “You know, Jade, it may surprise you, but you aren’t an unlikeable person.”

She smiled sweetly, but Freddie, knowing her for so long, saw through the sarcasm. It really wasn’t difficult – she rolled her eyes when she spoke. “Was that the line you used to win her over?”

“I’ll tell her you liked the gift,” he said plainly, and she nodded in appreciation.

His mother was always an iffy topic in conversation. Freddie, for the most part, loved his mother; after all, she was his mother. Other than the horrible decision of naming him ‘Fredward’, he honestly understood that she was looking out for his best interests. When she was doing something unbearable, he usually vented to Jade. The compliments rarely surfaced in-between. But she was neutral to Jade – she neither disliked her nor preferred her, simply because she seemed to be the only friend Freddie had. She tried desperately to make him new friends, but he wasn’t quite the same with others around. He was more drawn in, and less responsive to them. Only when Jade was around, did she truly see the beginnings of a man she wanted her son to be – confident, outgoing, and, to her chagrin, happy.

He directed his eyes back to the device, and she quickly followed suit. “I’ve already preloaded it with my contact information. Just my email and TekMate number. It’s supposed to be a texting device but I uhh… modified it.”

She raised an eyebrow, but he couldn’t see it. “Modified it?”

“Let’s just say I didn’t bother getting a warrantee on it. I’m pretty sure it’d be voided.”

She snorted lightly. “Sure. What else did you do?”

“Besides turn it into a phone? Not much else.”

Her head swiftly turned to him, her eyebrows arched high. “Excuse me?”

He grinned. “I was tinkering around with it, and I decided to go back in the bin,” he explained, referring to the box of broken electronics that he had been collecting, for spare parts to repair the current equipment he had, like his pearPad. “Long story short, it’s a phone. And since you’re on my mom’s plan, it doesn’t cost a dime.”

“Freddie… I…” not knowing what to say was an understatement. He was a technological genius, she knew, but his feats astounded her, and it was surely his most ambitious project to date. She was always in awe of his accomplishments. “Wow!”

He smiled to himself. “It’s always worth it to hear that.”

Jade was usually uncomforted by the words of flattery her best friend said to her, whether they were in jest or sincere. Not the words, per se, but particularly, the reaction it caused. The pit of her stomach swelled like a balloon, and her head felt light. The confusing feelings that hit her always left her in a slight daze, and she had no idea how to respond to them. This time was no different. She shifted minutely in his lap at the surge of feelings, and Freddie quickly tightened his hands around her, holding her still.

Her eyes widened a little bit, realizing her mistake. “Sorry,” she mumbled embarrassingly, and Freddie only hummed in response, too mortified to say anything else.

She already felt it beginning to press against the denim of her loose jeans – the beginnings of Freddie’s hard-on had plagued them for years, quite a few years after Jade began sitting on Freddie’s lap. She never did it to embarrass Freddie – if anything, it was equally embarrassing for her. They had mutually, silently, agreed from the very beginning that it was something to be ignored, and to draw attention to it would be more of a humiliation than a solution. She didn’t move, and he didn’t move, and it disappeared on its own. The awkward silences soon faded throughout the months, and it was barely noticed anymore, even though Jade appreciated the unsaid compliment every time.

It was strange, yes, but it was something they were both used to. Jade wasn’t going to give up sitting on Freddie’s lap for such a minor disturbance, and ever since she discovered the ‘joys’ (her words, laced with sarcasm) of transforming from a girl into a young woman, inexplicably, she became more firm on her decision. He wasn’t exactly going to argue against it, especially as he was going through several of the same things.

Once again, strange. But it was how they lived their lives. Of course, no one else needed to know, especially parents.

Jade tilted her head to the side, the TekMate in her hand forgotten. “Does it hurt?” she asked with a small voice, that he almost missed.

He lost his look of concentration, trying to will it to go down. And on such an important day… “Hm?”

“Does it hurt?” she asked him, almost plainly, with a little bit of concern. She had never asked questions about it before – they never even talked about it before, not even after the fact. “I mean, I’m sitting on it, and I’ve never sat on you sideways before…” she trailed off. She didn’t want to say it out loud, but when she sat on his lap before, it was usually both of them facing forward, the back of her head on his chest, instead of her side, as it was now. Unlike now, he never wrapped his hands around her, instead just placing his hands on her hips or something, if he wasn’t reading a book with her, and he was in charge of holding it that time. For that reason, whenever his ‘problem’ appeared, there was… politely putting, a groove that never blocked the growth’s path. Her pants, or occasional skirt, was always loose enough that there was never a question of where his problem was at all times. It always found its way sliding up the groove that was the crack of her butt.

Just thinking about it brought some color to her pale features. “Forget I asked.” She hid her face in her hair.

“No,” Freddie muttered quickly, wishing he could adjust himself. The added pressure was only getting to him, instead of making his erection retreat. And the thoughts of how it usually went away only made him harder. “It’s just uncomfortable.”

Jade nodded, feeling his erection pulse once against her denim-covered rear. She resolved to stay absolutely still, for Freddie’s comfort, as she had done many times before.

And something she might never do again.

Those last words came to her mind unbidden. It scared her. She knew he would likely keep his promise, if it was in his power, to return to her, and she may very well find herself in Seattle in the near future if he didn’t, but what scared her was the thought of them not being as close as they were now. Very few things scared Jade. Other people’s sweat, frogs, and the thought of losing her friendship with Freddie. She never had trust issues – no one looked at her and Freddie, having assumed that they were either together already, or it was a matter of time – but she was more concerned that what she had with him, this unique connection, would go away, with either time, or… a mistake of her own doing.

She breathed a steady breath, her mind calculating her next step. Freddie was, for the most part, shy and naïve, and so was she, to an extent, but they both knew what the ramifications of his erection meant. It was his hormones reacting to her body pressing against him. She was sure that he would respond to almost any girl sitting in his lap this way, and thankfully, that has never been put to the test. But she had no idea how he would respond to… her wanting to do something about it.

Hey,” she blurted out, and the brunet’s attention focused back onto her, his concentration broken again. He looked frustrated by this point, but not at her – it wasn’t going down without a fight. “Do you think… you know… that it knows this might be the last time I’m sitting on your lap?” She looked completely sincere as she asked that question.

“Don’t say that,” he told her firmly, loosening his arms around her so she could move freely. Hearing his tone, she turned her neck to fully face him. “I’ll come back to you. I promise. Nothing will change, unless you want it to.”

Jade looked away embarrassingly. She wanted to believe those words so badly. “Just hear me out for a second, Freddie. We’re weird. Our daily rituals are… weird. Things like waiting for an erection to pass, and sitting on your opposite gender best friend’s lap when just chatting, is strange. I don’t want either of us to wake up one day and realize that it’s… childish or something. I care about you. I can’t even imagine doing this with anyone else. I’ve never seen… well, anything before. You’ve been around me since I was four. When we were feeling, you know, strange and awkward, we talked to each other about it. We’re too comfortable with each other. Can you see us doing this when we’re separated, and we meet back up in as little as a week, a month, a few months… to as long as a year? Do you really think we can pick up where we left off?”

“Absolutely.” His firm, immediate reply had her shocked. “I like you, Jade. I want to imagine you’ve always felt the same way I’ve felt, and that we only do what’s natural to us, and weird to others, because we’re comfortable with each other. I’m always comfortable with you. I’ll always be comfortable with you. We know pretty much everything about each other. Could we forget over time? Possibly, but I doubt it. Could we not learn the new things that happen in our lives? Definitely. A phone call isn’t nearly as comfortable as face to face, holding each other.” His fingers trailed up her spine before rubbing a delicate spot on her back, and she shivered. “Only I know that, Jade, and I knew that before we gave this new step in our relationship a test run. I know all your hopes and dreams, and I haven’t even asked you on a proper date yet! We know more about each other than a married couple.” His face reddened at that, and Jade found it… dare she say, sweet. “I can’t see myself moving on, or even trying to. Can you?”

Jade’s far too expressive teal eyes trained on Freddie’s equally animated brown eyes. “No,” she whispered breathily. And it was true. She had known Freddie far too long, had been through far too many troubled times with her best friend to even consider him a ‘childhood crush.’

Jade had no idea what love was. She had, of course, heard of the concept, but it was a mostly foreign idea.

But whenever she thought of the word, it always came with a face. And, at that moment, it was all that it meant, and all it could ever mean.

“Good,” he breathed to himself, almost in relief. And she felt ashamed for a moment. To be able to tell him how she felt, with emotion, and tears, and all that other crap they put in romance movies, and to put herself on the line, and…

It wasn’t her pride stopping her. Sure, she had a reputation as an Ice Queen, one that she loved, but it never meant anything to Freddie, and she didn’t bother putting that persona up around him. She truly was an Ice Queen, in her mind, but Freddie was the only one who… well, didn’t annoy her. In a perfect world, everyone else would just disappear, and stay out of her way. But he could stay.

She saw the irony of her words, considering what would happen the next day, and it didn’t amuse her.

It was fear. And a part of her realized that it was always fear.

There were many moments in their lives when Freddie was there for her, to support her, and she responded with weak-willed thanks, and light appreciations. Of course, she was there for him all the time as well, and only when he absolutely needed it, did she let her heart speak to him. When his parents got a divorce, she cried with him, because his sadness brought her pain. When he was awarded with trophies and medals and certificates for his academic achievements, she celebrated with him, and she always smiled for him, because she was genuinely happy for him. But when her emotions were under control, she tended to reign them in far more than she needed to.

She took him for granted, sometimes. And she was afraid. Afraid that if she put it all on the line, that it would bite her one day. Afraid that if she actually expressed her feelings, and told him how much he meant to her, and how much she was affected by their friendship… if it ever went away, then it would be a killing blow.

Admitting that she liked him? Crushing enough. Actually admitting, out loud, even to herself, that she…

That she loved him?

It just might kill her, to admit that before he moved. It just might kill her to admit that at all. To say something like that, to publicly announce how vulnerable she was to him. How she needed him, how she desperately hoped he felt the same. And, what if he did? Nothing would change. He was still moving. She was still going to have to move on.

She just didn’t know how to.

“This will last, Jade,” Freddie muttered quietly, knocking her out of her reverie. “I can’t help but think it will. We agreed three days ago, that this was a test. If it got too awkward, no harm, no foul. And except for the news… I don’t remember being so happy.”

Her eyes strayed away from his, and in a broken whisper, she croaked “Me, too. Dammit, Freddie, me too.” She tilted her head back and groaned in exasperation. “Three days! Three stupid fucking days!”

Freddie didn’t bother admonishing her language. If anything, it was a compliment – she only cursed when she was extremely passionate about something. “Couldn’t have said it better myself,” he whispered, his hand moving up to stroke her long, straight jet-black hair. “Still – I never took you on that date, did I? We still have time to go to the movies…”

“I don’t want a movie,” she shook her head, and pressed her cheek against his chest once again. She wrapped her arms around his torso, and clasped tightly. She didn’t want to let go – ever. “Let’s just stay here…” she whispered, her voice broken. “Grow old.”

Freddie blinked away the unshed tears and wrapped his own arms around his girl, hugging her to him. “Not a bad idea,” he whispered, losing himself in the illusion; the possibility of having this girl by his side for years to come, until they moved in together to Elderly Acres down the street.

The pair of intertwined bodies, as they have many times before, drew comfort from each other’s presence. Their lives would be forever changed the next day, and their spot, under the tree with the widest shade in the park, across the playground, would forever be abandoned by the two best friends; but never forgotten. It was the place they met, it was the place they grew stronger, and, in the late hours of the night, when they finally awoke… it was the place they kissed for the second time in their lives.

Jade felt a poke on her thigh as she leaned back. “It’s back,” she muttered, now wide awake.

Freddie looked down. “I don’t think it left.”

Jade looked around the empty park, and across to the empty playground. She stretched her legs before standing up, giving her boyfriend a hand. The erection in his jeans was protruding obscenely; as she expected it to be, after years of feeling it against her. She gathered up the blanket and slipped back on her sandals. She waited for Freddie to slip his on before she tugged on his hand. “Come on. Let’s go.”

“I still have more time,” Freddie muttered, but began following her none-the-less. “Mom’s working the nightshift.”

“Good,” she grinned mischievously, turning her head back to him as they walked. “My mom’s out, too. We’ll go to my place.”

“My sixth sense is tingling,” Freddie muttered, noticing the peculiar smile, and for the first time, he wasn’t even remotely worried. In fact, he smiled back.

“Good. Keep that sense. And the tingling. You’ll need it. Hopefully.”

Freddie raised an eyebrow. “I’m a guy with hormones, Jade. I’m pretty sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Nope.” She walked faster, and Freddie easily kept up. “You’re getting the general idea. I think you know exactly what I’m thinking.”

“I’m thinking you want to make out.”

“Nope,” she said again, and shook her head. “I’m a girl with hormones. You’re a guy with hormones. You’re leaving tomorrow. We both have problems we need to take care of. We’re just cutting out the middle man.”

Freddie was stunned for a second. “Middle man?”

She faced forward, her intentions already resolute. “I’ve read what guys do when it won’t go away. And if you don’t know how… I’ll show you.”

Freddie’s mind ran a mile a minute. “Are… are you sure?”

She looked back at him, her smile now dropping. “Completely, Freddie. I can’t tell you how I feel in words.” She stopped, and let go of his hand. “I thought a lot about it, when we were asleep. I had this whole speech prepared, and I forgot it.” She breathed deeply. “It ends with us taking as many steps as we would have had as a couple, if we had the time. Because I won’t do this with anyone else, Freddie. It’s you, or no one. And I need to know what it feels like. To be with you.”

Freddie saw the vulnerability in his girlfriend’s eyes. He heard the strain and hesitation in her voice. “Jade… I want to know, too. I’m willing to go as far as you want to…but… I have to ask again – ”

“Don’t.” She stepped forward, and kissed him again. When she pulled back, she smiled gently at him. “Please. I’m sure. I’m ready. I… I…”

“Okay.” He smiled down at her, and kissed her forehead. He held onto her hand and led the way to her home. “I want this, too.”

Her lips quirked into a smile. “Yeah. What you said.” ‘I want this… I want you… I need you. It’s all relative, I guess. Do we really need to say it to each other right now? Right before he leaves? Would it really be a good thing to say it to each other?

Her smile went full-blown as her house came into view. ‘We’ve got time to say whatever we want to each other.

I love you.

Fuck, I can’t believe I’m doing this.
Clarifying – I’m mostly talking about getting on a plane to see you. Not the above statement.

I tripped and dropped your present in the fountain at the airport. You didn’t tell me it wasn’t waterproof. Not blaming you or anything. I’m a screwup.
And, according to the girl next to me, I’m a stalker, too. Whatever. I just want to see you again. Is that so fucking difficult to do nowadays?
Once again, not blaming you. Checking your SplashFace messages isn’t hard to do, though.

She held down the backspace button, biting her bottom lip. Her cynicism was what got her in trouble in the first place. She vowed to change that.

Jade sat back on the moderately comfortable seat. So she couldn’t get in touch with her best friend. And so, here she was, skipping school, on a plane to Seattle. She wasn’t completely insane – it was a round-trip ticket.

However, she had no idea where his house was. And that could be a problem.

She closed her eyes, leaned over, and held her head between her hands. Maybe she was crazy. Who traveled to another city to find someone, and not have a clue as to where they live?

Crazy in love? Yuck.

The concept of being in love was foreign enough, but making a cheesy song out of a clichéd catchphrase?

She jumped up, a little bit. Jade chanced a glance to her left at her seatmate. She was still asleep. Just as well; she didn’t want something else to be ridiculed about, and she would mock her relentlessly for the new idea she had.

A song. So far, it’s been the absolute best and direct way of expressing her feelings. Once her words took over, she left it in the rhythm of her thoughts, and as cheesy as it was, her soul.

She flexed her thumbs, and began typing again.

I never tried writing a love song
I never tried to go to that place
But the memories of your eyes, your hair, your face
It seems like I’m almost living in this space

It’s disgusting – how much you affect me
How cold I am without your embrace
Now that you’re gone I feel weak -and- pain
And that’s why I’ve never gone to that place

Crazy in love, that’s what they tell me
And maybe they’re right, but can I really be blamed?
It’s only crazy if you don’t feel the same
And if I take this last leap of faith, what will remain?

I could’ve pictured us in a couple of years
Getting along like those people in Cheers
We’re best friends, and I thought that was all I needed
And trying to ask for more would make me conceited

She paused. Four verses in, and no hook. She wasn’t one for repetitive chorus lines, and she especially wouldn’t love them in a few years when she did her own concerts (of which she was certain), but she felt that the song needed an… an anchor of sorts.

She hummed to herself what she had so far, the lyrics melting into place with her melody. She switched words around, made verses shorter, as she usually did when she wrote a song. It always began as a poem, and she would go from there.

Take, take, take a step, make a move, take your breath
And I’ve got a hell of a story to tell if you’re impressed.

She almost put in the lyrics ‘Take a trip’, referring to her flying across the country, but thought better of it. She was sorely tempted, though.

Closing her eyes, she leaned back and smiled, a clear image coming to her. She continued in her head.

I never tried writing a sappy love song.
Because all I think about is how it could go wrong.
But when I think of your eyes, your hair, your face,
I see that the song was there all along.

She quickly wiped a tear from her eye. She couldn’t believe how cheesy that sounded. Then again, it was a love song.

She typed the last verse into her brand new TekMate with trembling thumbs. She then looked back again through the verses for typos. Perhaps it was a mistake.

Could she really post this to Freddie’s SplashFace page? She was already going to his house (if she could find his house – once again, this was so insane) – why declare her feelings in a public forum?

Her hands grasped the phone tightly, her shoulders slumped back to the seat. She looked out the window, thankful her seatmate had allowed her to switch, and stared listlessly at the clouds.

‘I never tried writing a sappy love song… because I never wanted to feel like this.’ She chuckled humorlessly, her forehead pressing against the glass. ‘Still… at least I get to see him again.

Her pleasant thoughts slowly drifted to pleasant dreams, not noticing the TekMate slipping from her fingers.


“Sam.” He used his tongs to pick up the Fat Cake from the fryer, and added it to the collection. “Did I wake you?”

She said nothing. He thought as much. His back was turned to her, and he knew she was struggling to comprehend what was happening. “There’s some Tylenol in my mom’s bathroom. If your head hurts – ”

“Shut it.”

He took out another and laid it on the sheet. “I won’t have you messing up my mom’s room looking for medicine just because your head hurts.”

Though he couldn’t see it, her hand went to her head. “I don’t know what the hell you did to me, Benson – ”

“I didn’t do anything to you. I pinched the nerves in your leg while you were kicking me. I didn’t expect you to stand up. You smashed your head on the table. I carried you to my room. I’m not having Mrs. Shay catch you like that.” He shrugged, dropping another unfinished Fat Cake into the boiling pot. “You’re welcome.”

He wiped his hands on his apron and moved his chef’s hat to the side. He turned around, looking directly at the girl standing in the hallway. “If you’re going to attack me, now would be a good time. You’ve got two minutes.”

“You promise you didn’t touch me?”

That question shocked Freddie. It showed on his face. “Answer me!” she yelled, her fists clenching. She stepped forward a little bit, but Freddie didn’t flinch. Oddly enough, that gave her pause.

He leaned back on the counter. “It crossed my mind, but I didn’t,” he replied tersely. “I was sorely tempted. All that work…”

What?” She whispered a dangerous whisper. “Work? You mean what you did to me two days ago? What the fuck do you mean work? Conditioning? You were trying to train me?”

Freddie shook his head. “When I was spanking you, yeah. It worked for Pavlov.” Before she could snap back, he beat her to the punch. “And then I took it too far. We talked about this before. It’s probably not too late to report me. The school cameras are fake, yeah, but maybe the janitor noticed the smell?”

She didn’t pay much attention to the last statement. Rather, the second to the last. “What? The cameras are fake?” She couldn’t believe the concept had never come to her – the thought that they could have been caught on the school security cameras had never occurred to her.

“You honestly think you’d still be a student if there was video evidence of your bullying?” He asked incredulously. “Trust me, I’ve looked. I could have gotten you expelled a lot of times.” He glanced back at the collection of Fat Cakes in the fryer – not done yet. “Honestly, I could’ve gotten you expelled through other means.”

He saw her fists clenching and unclenching. “But you didn’t.”

“Exactly. Just like you didn’t report me for giving you a far less painful punishment. As far as I’m concerned, we’re even.”

Even? You raped me!”

“I molested you,” He replied tersely. “There’s a difference. Granted, it’s all wrong, and sick. I already told you that. But I warned you.”

She was quiet for a good, long moment. When Freddie turned back to remove the Fat Cakes, she finally spoke, gathering her words. “I should hurt you. Bad. For what you did to me. I should dunk your head in that grease.”

“What’s stopping you?”

She was quiet for another moment. “What stopped you?”

He turned off the stove. “What do you mean?”

“When you were… touching me. What stopped you? I noticed… you wanted to continue.”

He knew exactly what she was referring to. “I saw a naked girl, and my body reacted. But I realized, too little, too late, that I made a mistake. I was just so… goddamn sick of you.”

Sam stepped back in surprise. The pure, raw emotion in his face scared her for a moment. She swallowed nervously. “That’s no excuse – ”

“That’s no excuse for you to torture me!” He growled, and shook his head. “I could have beaten the shit out of you. I could’ve gotten you back for the month of putdowns, punches, tackles, throwing things… some of them sharp.”

“You caught them…” she defended herself weakly.

“And that wasn’t your first clue that I was more than what I seemed.” Freddie removed his apron. “I can do a lot of things, and it’s pretty obvious you were completely surprised when I snapped.” He sighed to himself. “You were so nice the last couple of days. I almost could’ve said you were… likeable. Guess miracles can’t happen.” He glared at her. “Still, you left me alone, didn’t you? If I kicked your ass, fight fire with fire, it would’ve been a never-ending war. You would’ve found a creative way to one-up me, and like always, I beg for you to stop it. Anything else I would have done to you would have been considered a game.”

He turned on the sink, and lathered his hands with liquid soap. His eyes strayed away from the blonde. “I’m not apologizing again for what I did. We can debate all day about which was worse, but I get nightmares about what you did to me. You get wet dreams.”

Before his hands could touch the water, he found himself being forcefully turned around. He backed into the cupboard, her forearm crushing his throat. She let up to quickly grab his hands and pushed them to the side.

Debatably, you could call Samantha Puckett a cute girl. Generally. When she actually takes the time to look nice, she looks amazing. Even when she’s not trying, she gives off an air of appeal that you can’t really let go of. Sure, Carly’s looks was usually put in comparison next to the girl, because they’re usually never seen without each other, and while Carly’s winning smile and personable attitude would almost always win, Sam was very attractive in her own right.

But usually, she preferred to look neither cute nor even attractive. She wanted to look scary. And she was good at it. She stared deep into Freddie’s eyes, her mind racing, her own eyes wild. She bared her teeth at his lack of response, and her hands gripped his own tighter. “How the hell did you know that?”

“You just told me.” It wasn’t his physical non-response that had her off. Rather, it was the bland way in which he told her. It wasn’t a smug comment; it was more of a truthful statement. “I don’t even know where you live, Sam. I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. I’m not spending another second on you. I put up with you because I want to get to know Carly, and under all those layers of toughness, I saw a beautiful girl crying for attention. Or you really did get off on torturing me. I saw, in the past couple of days, that the former is true. You try to hate me, but you couldn’t. You couldn’t because I’m exactly what you need. An hour ago, when I called you my friend, I lost that person I was having a great conversation with. So I reminded you of what I did, and you were still coming to terms with it. You didn’t respond well. I don’t blame you.”

“I shouldn’t be blamed for a damn thing.”

“And that’s why we’re even.”

The room was silent, save for the breathing of the room’s two occupants. It was a stand-off; a confusing one at that. From a look alone, Sam was clearly the one domineering the confrontation. She had gripped his arms sometime during his speech, and she looked ready to go through on her promise of dunking his head in the still-hot grease.

“Fine. We’re even.” After a long second, she let go of him. “You win. I’ll leave you alone.” She raised up her hands in surrender.

Freddie quirked an eyebrow, but said nothing for a moment. She stared at him for a few good moments, and then, without warning, grabbed both his ears and pulled him closer.

And she kissed him.

Save for the running water of the faucet, the room was ensconced in silence, once again. There was no breathing – the stunned preteens could do nothing but have their lips pressed together. Sam’s eyes were wide with fear, not from the kiss but the feeling. Freddie began to respond, and her hands trembled, tightening and loosening on his arms. His hands reached her side, and he hugged her to him.

Finally, her eyes closed, and she gave a soft sigh.

She couldn’t keep going without knowing – she had to figure out if it was just the spur of the moment that made her kiss him that day, or if she was just insane.

It was happening. She was attached.

She pushed herself away. “I’m insane,” she breathed.

“Glad I’m not the only one,” he calmly noted – his heavy breathing ruined the deadpan.

She stared at him again, in a whole new light. “What the hell is wrong with me,” she said, again. She had been wondering for the past couple of days, since she last kissed Freddie. She didn’t phrase it like a question. It was a concerned statement, at best.

Freddie held Sam firmly around her waist, and he slid his fingers up and down her side. Instead of commenting, he slowly leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. As she had done before, her hands slowly found their way behind his neck, and she held onto him.

And she remembered the reply he had given her when she first voiced that concern – maybe she was falling for him?

She didn’t doubt it much, now.

“Slept well?”

Jade glared sleepily at her newest friend. “Not nearly as long as I wanted to.”

“Food’s coming.” She jabbed her thumb back to the flight attendant, who was passing out plates a few rows behind them. “I told them chicken. I assume you want the chicken?”

“Would’ve preferred the salad,” she grumbled. After a brief, tense moment, she sighed. “Chicken is good, though. Thank you.”

Dana smiled. “That sounded like it was painful to say.”

“It was. I’m getting used to it.”

“Freddie’s influence?” She wondered, putting down the tray in front of her.

“More like his fault,” she sleepily uttered, mimicking the brunette/blonde. “He prefers that I not bite the head off of anyone that does something for me.”

“All I did was assume you hated the beef. Airline food in general is iffy, but you rarely go wrong with chicken.”

She fixed the Hispanic girl with a light glare. “That’s not what I mean.” She turned away, towards the window. “You didn’t have to agree to help me. These tickets aren’t cheap.”

Dana shrugged. “I go to a pretty expensive boarding school. The areas around campus takes advantage of it. I save up a lot, waiting for my parents to figure out I’m not the most frivolous around.” She quickly thanked the stewardess, who handed her two covered plates. She put both plates on the fold-out tables in front of them. “What about you? How did you convince your parents to move across the country for a boy?”

“Dad sends me money to make up for the fact that I never met him,” she sighed, still facing the window. “So I guess he’s a rich dude. Mom usually stays out of my way – I’m pretty sure she hasn’t noticed yet. I’ll come back in a few days.”

“Wow. Privileged and parentless.” Dana smiled. “You’ll go far.”

Jade finally turned back to her, only to once again give her a light glare. “Say that again, boarding school baby?”

Instead of being indignant, the slightly older girl laughed. “Okay, fair enough. Still, I’m not flying to Seattle on a whim. I’m visiting my parents for a few days. My dad is sick. If it’s bad, I’ll stay up there for a while.” She removed the plate, and was hit with a whiff of steaming, seasoned boneless chicken. “Whoa. That smells pretty good.”

Jade’s nose wrinkled in reflex, before she opened her own plate. “Hm. Not bad.” She grabbed her utensils and started cutting it. “Yeah, well, we can’t all have parents that are worth our attention. If I didn’t think of Freddie as anything more, I’d still consider him like a brother. He’s been my best friend for eight years and we haven’t been apart since. I miss him.”

Dana, cutting her own food, noted the tone in her new friend’s voice. “I wish I had someone like that. To be so young and in love…”

“Your passport says you’re my age…” she murmured disinterestedly, slicing her plastic knife through the chicken.

She raised her eyebrow. “Observant. So, you are in love?”

Jade stopped cutting abruptly, frozen. Then, almost on auto-pilot, she began cutting again. She didn’t say anything until she put her plastic fork and knife down. “You said it before already. I’m a crazy psycho stalker, right?”

Dana snorted. “Sure. Or you’re in love. Or you really want to know what could’ve been.” She was quiet for a few seconds. “I heard the song. I was just waking up. It sounds… amazing.”

Jade was normally proud of her singing, and her flawless pale skin, but on this occasion, the two worked against each other, and she blushed. She would have hidden her face in her hair, but her ponytail prevented her from doing so.

The Hispanic girl laughed at Jade’s distress. She quickly sobered, and added, “You have a great singing voice. You planning on using it?”

She muttered something, and abruptly cleared her throat. She was not an embarrassed little girl. “I’m going to Hollywood Arts next summer. Acting and singing.”

Dana scrunched her eyebrows together. She vaguely remembered the Hollywood Arts backpack the girl stowed in the compartment above them. “So, you bought your backpack at the campus bookstore? And you’re not even a student?”

She shook her head. “I have a cousin who went there. The bag was complimentary, but she never needed it, so she gave it to me.” She took bite of the chicken after giving it a chance to cool down. “Hm… pretty good.” She failed to mention that Freddie’s baked chicken was much better, but this was still pretty damn good… for airline food.

“So… how was it?”

“Hm?” Dana turned to her, just having swallowed the first bite. “Oh, I haven’t eaten it yet. The asparagus is terrible, as per usual.”

“Not the food. The song.”

“Oh. Well, I already told you. It was a great song.”

“And how would you feel if someone sang it to you?”

“Awww…” she fluttered her eyelashes. “What are you trying to tell me? Ow!”

Jade ate her food nonchalantly while Dana rubbed her forearm. “I thought Freddie told you to be nice.”

“Freddie’s not here,” she responded tersely.

Dana grumbled, then ate her food in silence. When she was half-through, she looked over at Jade, who was mixing the food around on her plate, not really eating it, just going through the motions. She looked… almost worried. The Hispanic girl sighed. “I’d feel loved.”

The ebony-haired girl’s head sprung up a little, like a static shock. “What?”

Dana continued, nonplussed. “I’ve never written a song, and I never felt enough emotion for anyone to do it. When someone writes me a song, I can’t help but be a little bit flattered. But, I think it’s the connection to the person singing it that gives it meaning. A song is just words, without the meaning, right?”

Jade was silent for a few more seconds, appraising the other girl, before she nodded stiffly. “Thank you.” She turned back to her food.

Dana waved it off. “You’re just saying that because Freddie told you to.”

“Yeah, probably.” Dana laughed, before they both continued their meal in a more companionable silence.

Sam stepped back, once again. “Fuck. Why am I doing this? Why are we doing this?”

“You want to know why you kissed me two days ago, and if you’d feel the same spark. You wanted to know if you weren’t caught up in the moment. I’m doing it because I’m using you.”

She stepped back, her mind reeling. “This needs to stop.”

Freddie shrugged. “You started it.”

She glared at him. “I hate you.”

“And yet, you’re falling for me.”

For the twelfth time that day, her hands formed into a fist. “Don’t push me, Benson.”

“Stop threatening me!” He growled, stepping towards her. She leaped back in surprise. Freddie, nonplussed, quickly reached behind her head and grabbed her hair. She brought up her hands to push him away, and with one swift move, he grabbed her hands together with his free hand.

She whimpered as his eyes stared murderously into hers, before moving down to her swollen lips. “I don’t care how long it takes for you to sort yourself out. God knows I wish a friend I knew was as direct as you… but don’t you dare take it out on me because you’reconfused.

“So, until you figure it out, you have two choices. You either stay away from me, or I make you mine. Again.” His eyes were as hard as ever, and she found herself stuttering profusely. She had no doubt he was going to keep his word. “I can be a nice guy, or I can dominate you.” He leaned forward a little, and whispered into her ear. “So choose wisely.”

The two were like that, standing together, cheek-to-cheek, the running water behind them forgotten. Sam’s heavy breathing was directly in Freddie’s ear, and a drip of sweat ran down her neck.

With a constricted moan, she pushed herself out of Freddie’s grasp. She looked back towards the door that led to the hallway.

The brunet noticed. “Make yourself look presentable before you leave.” He turned away, grabbing a napkin. He wrapped up a cooled down Fat Cake. “Here. I cooked these for you anyway. Take one.” He held out his hand. “And don’t talk to me again. Ever.”

She stared at the Fat Cake for a very long time, not really thinking – just staring. Hours ago, she would have snatched it from his hand and bitten into it with gusto, not caring if his fingers were in the way or not.

It was fascinating how much she had changed. Fascinating and disturbing. Which was why she chose not to think.

Her hands trembled, and she swiped the sweetly fattening junk food from him.

He let out a short sigh, one that could only be described as disdain, and turned back to the sink to finish washing his hands.

And for some, twisted reason, Sam was disappointed in herself.

Faster than she thought possible, her legs took her out of Freddie’s apartment, and not even glancing at Carly’s apartment, she paced down the hallway.

She had a lot of thinking to do.

Jade stepped out of the airport, her Hollywood Arts bag in her hand, and her suitcase rolling along behind her.

“Welcome to Seattle,” her new friend smiled, opening her arms beside her, as if giving the city in her view a big hug.

The pale girl frowned. “You sound too cheery. Stop it.”

Dana shook her head. “Hey, what can I say? I’m a night person.”

Jade looked off into the distance – the sun was close to setting. She checked her pockets for her wireless messenger. Her brow furrowed. “Where’s my TekMate?”

“In your bag,” Dana patted the side compartment of her backpack. At Jade’s curious expression, she explained. “You fell asleep with it in your hand. You almost dropped it, so I put it in your bag.”

Jade hesitantly nodded – she was really starting to build a reputation for new gadgets. She pulled her messenger out of her pack and slid up the screen to turn it on. The time was 8:28. She bit her lip. She had no idea where to start. Freddie didn’t give her any information, like where he lived and where he went to school, because he didn’t know until he moved.

She thought furiously to herself, before she looked over to the set of phone booths near the entrance.

She stared at it for a moment. She saw the large yellow phonebook connected to the booth, but the chances of it having Freddie’s mom in the book were non-existent. But what did people do then? Certainly there were ways of getting in touch with people?

She looked over to Dana, who was glancing around the not-so-packed lot for her mom’s car. “Can I see your phone?”

The Hispanic girl nodded, pulling out her phone. “Sure. What for?”

“How do you use four-one-one?”

Freddie plopped down onto his bed, his mind brimming with thoughts.

He wanted this week to be over with. Far too much was happening in his life, and he just wanted it all to go away.

Carly and Sam – how could he define them, and what did they mean to him?

He thought it would be simple enough. He had every intention of dating Carly. She was a sweet, bright girl, if a bit naïve. She reminded him of his younger self, actually. If there was anyone in Seattle that he could want to date, Carly was the perfect candidate, if only to see what it could lead to.

Sam, on the other hand, was Carly’s biggest flaw. He never really understood why she bullied him. Maybe she was just sick of his presence? Was he really that much of a nerd? He was never cursed to wearing glasses, and would sooner perform laser eye surgery on himself, than take that step. He was a Galaxy Wars fan, sure, and he loved to tinker with the latest technology, and he knew his stuff quite well, but they didn’t know that. He sometimes wondered if he should stay away from Carly, just to avoid Sam. There were several terms for that: Quitting, backing down, giving up, avoiding the problem, and, above all, losing. They all basically meant the same thing, but they all reminded him of the naïve little boy in Los Angeles, who was known as being nothing but a doormat. That wasn’t happening again.

So, what was her problem?

Was it really because he was the only person that challenged her?

She found an easy target, poked fun, and he kept coming back. Sam was probably very used to getting her way, and when she didn’t… she kept doing what she apparently did best. It didn’t make much sense to him.

He tried to look at it from her perspective. Scarily enough, it was easy. If a stranger walked into his life when he was in Los Angeles, and his friends (and he used that term loosely) preferred the company of the new kid, would he be threatened by his standings in the friendship?

Probably not. Friends were replaceable. None of them really lasted forever.

Or so he told himself.

He groaned loudly and put his head in his hands. There was no escaping it. He missed her.

Pale. Jet-black hair. Beautiful. Funny. Playful. Sweet. Intelligent. Fierce. Capable. Challenging. Independent. So uniquely…

Carly and Sam. Combined.


“Fuck,” he muttered. It was the first time he uttered that word, out loud, in his entire life. It was necessary. It summed up everything, and gave it a nice little bow on top. It described his life, the situations around him, and his reaction to it. It defined everything that was him at the moment.

He missed Jade so much.

“Fuck,” he groaned again. He looked to his left, reached over to his nightstand, and lifted up the once turned-down picture.

He debated for a long time whether or not to keep the picture of the two together. It was a picture of them, their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders, under their tree. His mom had taken the picture with his phone. The two smiled brightly into the camera, Jade’s a little faked, he could tell, because his mom refused to take the picture until she smiled brighter than she already had. His smile was fading as it went on, and the picture just turned out terrible, with his teeth showing, but the corners of his mouth twitching more downwards than upwards.

He wished his mom had just taken the damn picture. He missed her smile.

They were eleven at the time. It was the latest picture he had of the both of them, alone. He had wanted to take a picture of them, before he left, but their eyes were bloodshot, having been up all night, and they had been crying. She ultimately told him to take the picture, sacrificing her vanity for the memories, but he declined. He wanted a picture of the both of them in a happier setting, at a happier time. When he returned to her.

He placed the picture back on his nightstand and kept it up.

He wiped the tears that ran down the side of his face – he didn’t remember crying – and sat up from his bed. He closed his eyes, and remembered her words. The words that took his life to another level of joy, before plummeting only four days later, when he stepped on the plane. He still had the voicemail on his phone, shortly after he told her how he felt, the first time, that changed the course of their relationship.

‘Don’t you dare ignore me Freddie Benson! We’re going to talk about this! You can’t just say something like that to me, out of nowhere! If… if you’re going to say something like that, let me hear it. I want to hear it from you. That’s just not something you can text, Freddie… … … … … …I like you, too. A lot. Chizz. Alright. Maybe it is better to put it in a text. But I like you. And if you think we can do this…like, date… it might get weird. And it probably will be. But I really want to try. If you’re game, then I am. Call me back. Please.’

He wrinkled his nose. The number that voicemail was transferred to the TekMate he had given her before he left. And he never heard from her again.

Eight years. Eight years… and he hadn’t heard from her in a month. He sighed to himself, his anger expelled in one breath. All that remained was depression.

Was it him? Did she come to her senses? Maybe it was the delusional part of him talking, but what if she was trying to move on from him, by blocking out that part of their life, and trying to connect with other people? Like he had done?

Maybe… something happened to her? Maybe her mom took her messenger from her? Maybe she banned her from talking to him? Unlikely. Mrs. West had always liked him.

That got him to thinking. It was… inconsiderate of him, putting it lightly, but he refused to think much about Jade until now. The memories… in hindsight, they hurt. They hurt a lot. Just the thought that entered his head when he stepped off the plane… that she was intentionally ignoring him… had him frustrated to a point that he couldn’t comprehend anything.

He shook his head, and focused on the matter at hand. Jade’s mom didn’t have a cellphone, so he couldn’t call her. He literally lived fourteen stone’s throws away from her (Jade counted one day, when she was bored. Thankfully, no windows were harmed. Her aim was off. She insisted it wasn’t his persuading her not to.) As a result, he never needed her house phone number.

Something he was ashamed of, that was completely his fault – he had no idea what her address was. He knew the number on her mailbox, and he knew the neighborhood. But not the street’s name. He could look it up, get satellite images of her house. But he had no idea what the top of her house looked like. The houses all looked pretty uniform, no distinct differences. And, they all had garages. No noticeable cars would be in the driveway.

Fate hated him. Of that, he was certain.

He slowly stood from the bed and left his room, preparing to go to the store to buy some coconut shavings – the topping to his Fat Cakes. He forced a smile on his face as he walked through the kitchen to get to the door.

If Jade could see him now…

His hand stopped on the doorknob in mid-turn.

If Jade could see him now. How would she respond to this new Freddie? Would she be happy that he was standing up for himself? Disappointed? …Afraid?

He smacked his forehead against the door. Stupid, stupid, stupid. He was practically dating a girl, while working on owning a slave. What sane person would react positively to that?

He couldn’t justify his actions. Really, he couldn’t. And, maybe there were situations in the past few days that he could’ve responded better to. Maybe he should’ve just gotten her arrested. Maybe… maybe he should’ve just hit her back? He grimaced at what would or could have happened if he responded in the only way she knew how.

Hell, maybe he could’ve gotten away with what happened in the past few days? What the hell was he working towards? Destroying a friendship? Did he want to make them feel as broken as he was?

He liked Carly. He legitimately did. Of course, not as much as he loved Jade, but…

Fuck. He did it. Love. The ‘L’ word.

He learned far too much from Jade. He was even starting to think like her. She never particularly liked that word.

He thought he could do this without her. He thought he was strong. He thought that, at least, for one year, he could function normally. A small part of him hoped that he could one day audition for Hollywood Arts, as a producer, or an actor, or even a writer. When he wasn’t acting opposite her, he produced her songs with recording equipment he had scrounged and manufactured from old parts in his ‘Recycling Bin’. She had praised him when he had the CD made, with a professionally designed album cover and everything… and she smiled so bright…

He opened the door and closed it behind him, staring at the door in front of him. Without preamble, he strode the three steps it took and knocked on the Shay’s residence door.

A lanky man with long brown hair answered the door, and Freddie tried not to be distracted by his strange, glowing socks. “Hey, Freddo! What’s up?”

Freddie grinned at the older Shay’s exuberance. “Hey Spencer. Could you pass on a message to Carly for me?”

He looked perplexed and glanced back towards the stairs. “Uh, I could call her if you want – “

“I can’t stick around,” he quickly stressed, raising his hands in a placating fashion. “I have to leave soon. Tell Carly I can’t make it to movie night tomorrow.”

“Oh,” he frowned. “Alright. She looked really excited about it, though. I hope you can make it another time. Can you tell me why?”

Freddie gave the softest of smiles. “I need to go to Los Angeles for a while. I made a promise to a friend.”

He sighed heavily to himself as he rode the elevator down to the lobby.

Everything he had done in his life, mostly, he had planned it through. He never really did things ‘on a whim’. Usually, if Jade wanted to do something fun for the day, not planning for it, he followed along, but only because following Jade was the plan.

He didn’t want to think about this. He couldn’t think about it.

He could afford a ticket with his own money. He hoisted his baby blue emergency bag over his shoulder, complete with his passport, several changes of clothes, a ‘modified’, in her words, first aid kit, a prepaid phone, a nightstick (for protection), a credit card, and several thousand dollars. It was a major perk of having Marissa Benson as his mother. He doubted he would have access to the pack again, after this excursion, however. But he didn’t think about it.

He stayed in his apartment long enough to grab his bag, take out the expandable nightstick, and grab his own cellphone. He didn’t get cellular reception in the building, and the free wifi was terrible, so he simply turned it off. As such, he never really had the chance to use it – It was on his charger for weeks, and while that was normally bad for the battery, he had plenty more if anything happened to it.

The phone pinged in his hand. On instinct, he raised the phone, curious. He turned on the screen with a little bit of trepidation. The only person who ever texted him was…

He sighed, disappointed. It wasn’t a text message. It was his phone alerting him that he had connected to the wifi-network the Apartment provided.

He snorted. This was supposed to be a high-end apartment complex. Yet they couldn’t afford a decent internet connection? It didn’t even ask if you were a guest! It was a come one, come all connection, vulnerable to anyone looking for information, and that was just asking for trouble.

He was already in the settings, looking to turn off his wi-fi, when his phone pinged again. This time, a popup appeared on the screen.

His SplashFace app? He forgot he had downloaded that. He never really had the chance to use it. His profile page was virtually empty. He didn’t belong to a circle of friends, cyber or otherwise. But it made logging into other websites easier, which was why he made the account.

Still, he opened the app anyway, his curiosity getting the better of him. It was probably another spammer looking for random friends and posting links to various malware.

He blinked in surprise. A ‘Guest’ had posted something on his profile, in the comments section. But it didn’t look like a link, or a chain message. In fact, it looked like… he pinched the screen, zooming closer, and turned his phone sideways.

With each verse he read, his mouth opened a little more, his mind barely comprehending what he was reading. He was sitting down now – he didn’t know how that happened. The pain on his rear meant nothing to him. He read each line, the words to him clearer and clearer; the girl behind the words as vivid in his mind as ever.

He rubbed his arm over his eyes – he hadn’t cried yet, but he was due for another any time soon – and smiled at the message at the end.

‘I love you, Freddie. Your girl, Jade.’

He quickly scrolled to the top of the post and outwardly gasped at the timestamp – Posted 2 hrs ago.

“How?” he asked himself incredulously. “How is that…?” He checked the page, and sure enough, nothing else had been posted. She had contacted him two hours ago.

The doors opened. He gave a furtive glance into the empty lobby, but he otherwise ignored and paid attention to his phone.

Jade loved him. She loved him! His smile got wider and wider, his eyes shining brighter.

Then a selfish thought appeared in his head. She had sent him a lovely poem to convey her feelings to him. Two hours later, he’d be on a plane to Los Angeles to tell her himself. He chuckled at the timing of the message, the plethora of coincidences that must have led them to this point.

He pocketed his phone as he stood and looked up, the perfect romance story already planned in his head. He pressed the open button on the elevator, having already closed, but not summoned.

Funny, how plans worked for him.

The door opened to reveal a girl of a pale complexion and ebony hair, her arm falling to her sides from pressing the call button for the elevator. Her blue-green eyes darted around the inside of the box, before it settled on the lone boy inside the small room.

And then her eyes stopped. He could see her pupils dilate in surprise, her breathing stop mid-inhale. Her hand jumped to cover her mouth, and, involuntarily she took a step back; then immediately forward again.

He dropped his bag and took one step, but that was all he could do. She practically lunged forward and both exhaled, surprised at the force she ran into him with. The pain faded fast; he felt nothing – nothing but the euphoria, of the genuine feeling of being completely, perfectly, happy.

She was back in his arms, and he in hers.

“Freddie,” she whispered, and he began rubbing her back as he heard the tears in her voice. “My God… Freddie.”

His voiced squeaked a little, and he cleared his throat. “I – I was coming to see you. I was… Jade.”

She sniffed, her fingers digging into his back as her forehead rested into the crook of his chin. “Freddie,” she repeated, her smile showing her teeth for the first time in years, “I missed you. I missed you – so much.”

The doors closed again. Once again, he didn’t notice nor care. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I’m sorry.”

She snorted. “So am I.” It wasn’t said with any kind of sarcasm. She wasn’t going to fight him over who was the sorriest – who was the one to blame for the absence in each other’s lives.

They were here, together and that was all that truly mattered.

“I love you,” Jade spoke, loudly, in the elevator room.

It was a game she had played for far too long. It was a game that had potentially ended their friendship and relationship. She had trained herself, on the taxi ride there, that she would tell him. And she wouldn’t stop. “I… I… I love you, Freddie. And I don’t say that to anyone. I’ve never said it to my mom. I need you. I want you. I want this.” Her hands move up and gripped his shoulders. Freddie, hesitatingly, let go, almost as if she would disappear if he did. She pulled back and focused into his brown eyes. “I’m sick of hiding it. I had to tell you. If I never did, I… I don’t know.” Her lip trembled, an she quickly used her teeth to hold it in place.

It’s what the song said. Putting it all on the line, risking their entire friendship.

Freddie knew she was waiting for his response with bated breath. And he hesitated, but not without good reason.

He was a terrible person.

“I’m a terrible person,” Freddie muttered, looking away, at anything but her. “The things I’ve done here, Jade… I… you won’t love me if I told you.”

Jade had nothing but concern in her eyes. She didn’t have scorn, preparing herself to look at a monster. She had nothing but curiosity in her deep teal eyes, nothing but utter patience on her features. “Freddie,” she whispered softly, her fingers wandering to his chin, forcing him to look at her. “Do you love me?”

Freddie almost shuddered at the tone in her voice. It was a girl that was truly afraid of what he said next.

For a moment, he seriously considered letting her live in bliss and ignorance. Sam would likely avoid him forever. He hadn’t done anything with Carly that she would consider him as having any kind of relationship with her.

He would be happy, she would be happy. And they could be happy forever.

“Jade,” he whispered, “I love you. There isn’t a part of me that doesn’t love you.”

She expelled a breath she didn’t know she was holding, and she smiled. “Good.” She reached behind her, and glanced back. Her fingers pressed for Floor 8, and the elevator started moving. “Whatever you’re going to say – it can wait. I haven’t seen you in a month, and I need this; you. Holding me. Just like before.”

Freddie smiled softly at the girl – his girl. “I know a good place.”

The black-haired girl held onto the steel of the black balcony, her other hand in Freddie’s firm grasp, stepping over through the window into the warm, summer air. “Wow,” she muttered, watching the cars pass down the street, all the way down the block. She looked up, and her vision spotted the Space Needle from a distance.

“Yeah,” Freddie muttered, his eyes only for the beauty that chose to love him, however misguided the decision was. “Wow.”

She blushed, her ponytail doing nothing to hide it, and she smiled a soft smile at him. “Thanks, Freddie.” She let go of his hand and looked around the spacey balcony for a good spot to sit. There was a crate that he could sit on, but it just didn’t feel the same. “Can we – you know – sit on the floor?”

He cocked his head, looking at the hard, ridged, non-slip grate that was the floor. Finally, he conceded.

Her next move shocked him. She swiftly slid her blue jean jacket down her arms and carefully laid it out on the grate. Before he could protest, she sat down on the edge of the jacket, and patted the spot next to her, the middle. Freddie, battling with himself for a second, conceded again and sat down next to Jade. Without preamble, she scooted over onto his lap and wrapped her arms around his neck for leverage.

For a good, long time, the two were quiet. They listened to the sounds of the city, and they focused on the presence of each other. The two best friends, once again united, felt content with the world. Jade appreciated this spot – No one would stumble upon them here, unless there was a fire, so she could be herself.

She could treat him the way he deserved to be treated.

“So… you were coming back.”

“Yep.” His monotone voice cut through the warm air. He was essentially mindless at this point, his delirium unabated.

She remembered the brightly color bag that he had since dropped off in his room. “Emergency Bag?”

He rested his chin on her forehead. “Yep.”

“Seems a bit… short notice,” she wondered, furrowing her eyebrows. How did they have the same inspiration to meet each other on the same day?

“I got your message,” Freddie smirked, waiting for her reaction.

It wasn’t a reaction he was expecting. She looked even more confused. “What message?”

“Uh… the poem?”

She blinked several times. “I never sent that. I wrote it on the plane on the way here… then I fell asleep… and my friend Dana, she…”

The confusion left her face, and it only left a neutral expression. “She took it out of my hand and put it in my bag.” Her eyes focused on his. “I don’t know if I’m angry at her or not. So, if she hadn’t sent that message…”

Freddie sighed. He knew he couldn’t have gotten out of it that easy. “No. I got the message when I was in the elevator, with my SplashFace app. It’s… it’s relating to what I said earlier. I wanted to see you. I wanted to tell you what I did.”

Jade wasn’t one to be surprised easily. With everything that happened today for her, she was willing to believe, and promptly accept, anything. Did he get himself a girlfriend? It would be a… surprise, to say the least. Not that there was anything wrong with Freddie, but he wasn’t an outgoing person to anyone except her. She had been hit on in the past month, and she put her foot down, stating her disinterest, but only because she had eyes for him. She just wouldn’t be interested in other guys. In fact, if she were honest with herself…

She shook her head physically. Back to Freddie. “Is it about a girl?”

Freddie hesitated, and she knew the answer before he could vocalize it. He nodded, shamefacedly.

“Freddie…” she tried to phrase her question right. “I want you to answer me honestly. If I were interested in a boy, would you let me date him?”

It was a difficult question to ask. One of the hardest she could ever ask, actually. Freddie took a moment to ponder the question. “Um… yes and no.”

Jade frowned. “Clarify,” she spoke, softly but firmly. She was neither angry nor pleased, she was just curious.

He leaned his head back. “I want you to be happy, Jade. That’s all I ever wanted. If you can find someone that makes you feel like that, then by all means, go for it. I’m your friend, and I care about you. I just want you to be happy.”

Jade’s fingers slithered to the back of his neck, and tilted his head forward until they locked eyes. “That’s it, isn’t it? My happiness. Not yours.” She put her other hand over his mouth, her fingertips pressing gently against his lips. “But you make me happy, Freddie. And that’s what you were going to say next, wasn’t it? That you hoped that you would be the guy I found happiness with?”

He nodded, his eyes shining.

“When I saw you on that elevator… it was distracting how much… how ‘giddy’ I was. But I saw how you felt, too.” She moved her fingers away, and leaned in, capturing his lips in a sweet, short kiss. She leaned back, but Freddie quickly followed, and she squeaked in surprise. She gave in, and relaxed into the kiss.

Her heart beat faster. Her belly ached a little. Her head felt light. And for the first time in her life, she embraced the feeling.

Love? Hormones? Did it matter? As long as she had one, and either reacted like this to only one person in her life, what was the problem?

He pulled back, and she made to follow him, but he held her firmly. He pressed his fingers to her pale, warm cheek.

“Jade…” he whispered. “I can’t. This is different. I don’t like her. I… I hate her, actually. Well… it started that way.” Groaned frustratingly. “Gah! I don’t know how to explain this.”

“Okay, Freddie,” she gave him a challenging smirk, and settled more comfortably in his lap to put her full attention on him. “Surprise me. Start from the beginning.”

Freddie took a deep breath, and held on to her tightly, afraid that she would run away. And she likely would. If she actually did try, well… he’d cross that bridge when he came to it. “Fine. It started when mom and I started going door-to-door to say hello to our new neighbors…”

Samantha Puckett twiddled her thumbs in her seat, nervous. She looked swiftly around the mostly empty classroom, her hair hitting her cheek as she turned. She grimaced. It would take some getting used to.

And she wasn’t sure if it was worth it or not. She gulped nervously to herself. She hoped it was.

“Sam?” It was a sound of pure shock in the person’s voice, and she knew that voice well. She looked up to see Carly, her mouth open, her eyes widened in surprise.

“Hey, Carls,” Sam chuckled nervously. “Fancy seeing you here.”

The dark-haired girl walked forward and rested her books on the table. “Why are you here so early?”

Sam shrugged. “Just wanted a head-start on my day. Mom was being more annoying than usual. I had to get out of there.” She turned the tables. “And you? You’re usually racing the bell, too.”

Carly plopped down in the chair next to her, and rested her elbows on the table. “No one to talk to. I usually have you to entertain me for a few minutes before school starts.” She glanced over to Sam, and smiled at her new look. “Nice hair.”

The girl who usually didn’t bother to pay much attention to her looks, absently reached up and pulled at the blonde locks on her ponytail. “Really? It’s something new I’m trying out.”

Carly smiled softly at her friend, pleased that she was making an honest attempt of acting more like a girl. “I like it. It looks great.” Her nose wrinkled. “You shampooed it too?” Her disbelief came back.

Sam shrugged, yet again, with a small blush. “Mama likes to treat herself every now and then. I gotta do it sometime, right?”

Carly furrowed her brows a little. “Sam… does this have anything to do with, uh… Movie Night?” She refrained from saying Freddie’s name, specifically.

Sam hesitated with her words, even though she had prepared them ahead of time. “Carls, if you’re talking about Freddie, no. I’m not doing anything to interfere with you and Freddie. I’ve done that enough,” she chuckled nervously. At Carly’s skeptical expression, she continued. “I won’t be there, Carls. I have something I need to take care of.” She hated lying to Carly, so she added a little bit of truth to her lie. She really did have something she needed to do. She quickly changed the subject before her curious friend could ask. “Hey, where is the nub, anyway?”

He wasn’t around. She figured she could get the word out of her vocabulary soon, and what better way than purging it out at every opportunity? And it was helpful in this case, when she noticed Carly relaxing at the way she referred to him. Then she frowned. “I don’t think he’s going to be here today.”

She frowned, mirroring her best friend. “Why? The nub’s skipping school? And he didn’t invite us?”

She shook her head. “Apparently, he’s going back to his hometown for the weekend. That’s what Spencer told me, anyway.” She faced forward, missing Sam’s perplexed look. By this time, students had started to file into the classroom. She began to speak over the light noise. “No one was at his apartment when I checked. I guess he already left.”

“That’s… sad. You okay?”

She glanced back at Sam with a quirked eyebrow. “Why wouldn’t I be okay?”

Sam crossed her arms and tilted her head at her friend, unconvinced at her performance. “You were looking forward to it, Carly. You couldn’t talk about anything else all week.”

Carly cracked a smile, and shrugged her shoulders. “If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen. We’re neighbors. We can reschedule anytime. Besides… it wasn’t like it was an actual date.” Her smile sunk a little bit.

Sam wrapped her arm around the pale girl’s shoulders. “Exactly, Carls! It wasn’t a date. It’s not a rejection or anything.” She leaned in and whispered into her ear. “Tell you what. You and me. All weekend. Sleepovers, shopping, poking hobos. Hilarity ensues. Whaddya say?”

Her lips quirked again. “No hobo-poking, Sam.”

“I’ll pay them first,” Sam said enticingly, using her injured puppy look on her.

“Sam, that… might work,” she murmured to herself. She shook her head wildly. “No, Sam! It’s not right. Why don’t you just give them the money?”

She shrugged, removing her arm from around Carly. “I don’t get anything out of it. If I’m pulling out my cash, it’s for entertainment or food.”

Carly sighed exasperatingly, but she was smiling. “Fine. For every hobo you give money to, you can poke me.”

Sam shook her head. “Not nearly as entertaining. Once, when I poked a hobo, he called me an alien, used an umbrella as a shield, and kicked at me. When I pretended to fall down, he proclaimed himself the king of France, and fell asleep.”

Carly blinked. “How… how is that… that actually happened?”

Sam nodded wisely. “The homeless; they have much to teach us, Carlotta. Their wise words mean nothing if you don’t take the time to listen.”

Carly looked seriously at her blonde friend. “Sam?”

“Yeah, Carls?”

“You will stop poking the homeless.”

“Aw, dag, man!”

Carly smiled at her friend. She was just so… Sam. She needed that. While conversing with her friend in the last few minutes before the bell rang, her sadness of Freddie’s lack of appearance was dwindling.

Sam, on the other hand, tucked her fingers into the strands of her ponytail and stroked her hair, her curls bouncing away at each down stroke. She wondered what he was doing now… with that girl…

Jade, was it?

Her lip trembled as she tried to focus on Carly’s words. She rubbed her thighs together discreetly. Sam wasn’t sure she’d make it through the day. Tonight however… that would be so worth it.

She amended her earlier thought. Yes, it was worth it. All of it.

Samantha Puckett accepted her fate. She had been dominated by him, and she had submitted to him. And she had never felt so good before in her life.

She would figure out how to tell Carly about Jade later. She couldn’t let her best friend get in the middle of all of this, even though she firmly was. She resolved to herself to figure out a plan later.

But now, she had to figure out her own life, first. And she had no idea to go about doing that.

But the ponytail was a start. Hopefully.

Freddie wiggled his nose at a small ticking sensation. He opened his eyes, and winced at the light that shined into his room.

The first thing he really noticed was that he was late for school.

The second thing he noticed was that he had a really good reason why.

Her porcelain-like skin shined beautifully from the sunlight, as she was wrapped in his arms. Her fingers were interlocked with his, resting on her bare stomach. The covers covered most of their naked bodies, but the skin she showed – from her long, smooth neck, to her flawless shoulder – was intoxicating.

He breathed onto her skin, and she shivered in her sleep. He smiled against her shoulder and pulled the covers around them firmly. He flipped her hair over to lay over her throat, exposing the back of her neck to his eyes.

He pressed his lips smoothly to her tantalizing nape, and his body reacted to him moving closer to her. He chuckled lightly to himself – he knew exactly where and how his hard-on was pressed against her, thanks to her shivering. It was just like it was back home, under the tree, across the playground. His eyes drooped a little, before he thought of something, and glanced back at the door. It was locked. And barricaded.

He smiled and turned back into Jade’s hair, kissing her neck once more before he closed his eyes, not noticing the slightly open window.