Jade and Freddie enjoy some pillowtalk while Sam rations out her feelings for her best friend.

“Is that really the best picture you have of us?”

Freddie grimaced at the cringe-worthy photo, hidden facedown on the nightstand until it caught his lover’s eye. “I think it’s one of the only pictures I have of us.”

Jade looked at the nightstand, then back to her boyfriend. She gave him one of those smirks. “Get your phone.”

Freddie blinked. “Really? Right Now?”

“Right now. Crop it if you need to. We’ll keep the original. But we’re burning this shitty photo. You need to invest in a tripod.”

“I hear they have sticks that help you take pictures from farther away with your phone.”

“I love you, Freddie, but I might have to kill you if I ever see you with one of those abominations against society.”

“What? You’d think I’d use it irresponsibly?”

“Using it at all is a scourge on all that is right.”

“You realize that in your Hollywood world, you may need to take a lot of selfies for social media.”

“One: you’d be my photographer. Two: I have arms. When I lose those, I’ll think about it. Three: If they really want to see me, I’d probably have movies they could see me in. Just a suggestion.”

“Oh, they’re just going to love that personality of yours.”

“I know they will.”

He chuckled. “I know I do, but benefits come with the personality.”

She scoffed. “Sure. Just know that I’m a lot harsher on everyone else. I’ll work on it. But like I said before; you get the full Jade experience this weekend.” She abandoned the cover in favor of rolling onto her best friend. “Even I don’t know what that is. Be honored.”

His eyes took on a certain gleam, that reminded her, if she needed it, why she tried so hard for him. “Never change.”

“You say that until I skip my morning coffee.”

“You haven’t had your morning coffee.”

“It’s been a different kind of night,” she muttered with a slight rasp, her eyelashes fluttering.

He wrapped his arms around her shoulders. “Did I have something to do with that?”

She pushed him, letting her fingertips linger against his naked skin. “Don’t get cocky.”

He peeked down. “‘Cocky’ isn’t a good word I’d use right now.”

“Just get the damn camera.” She was never truly annoyed with Freddie – she had a low tolerance for everyone else that, as she had told him previously, she was working on – but the boy knew how to push her buttons in more ways than one.

Goddammit, she loved it. It reminded her that she was human. Sometimes, she needed that reminder.

He reached into his nightstand drawer, and pulled an old analog camera. “I found this thing while I was searching the house. Someone just left it here.”

“Their loss, your gain.”

“I guess so. Not much I can do with it, though. Nothing and no one… to…”

Jade instinctively covered herself up as Freddie’s eyes hovered over her. “Freddie… no.”

He shrugged helplessly. “It was a nice thought. But can I ask for some tasteful shots?”

“Tasteful as in ‘covered’?” She furrowed her brows. “Let me have my coffee first. Then I can think about it a little bit more.”

Freddie nodded. “Of course. You can even think about it wearing clothes.”

She tilted her head back and forth. “After what we did last night, wearing clothes in front of you just doesn’t feel right.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Is this what the new Jade is like? I mean, I told you not to change, but… I have no complaints. I like it.”

“You should. This is one weekend only. And maybe I’m hamming it up for you, but when I go back to the City of Angels, you’re not getting a progress report out of me.” She let the sheet fall from her grip as she sat up on the bed and threw her legs over the edge. “I won’t be an ice bitch, but no one’s giving me a spanking if I don’t play nice with others.”

Freddie admired her pale, flawless back on display for a few seconds, before responding. “I’d hope not. As stated before, I don’t like sharing.”

“Am I on the assumption that slaves don’t count? Because we did a lot of sharing last night.”

He looked ponderous, choosing his next words carefully. “I think Sam counts. You’re right, it was mutual, for the most part. But… were you serious about your friends? Catherine and Dana?”

After more than a few seconds of staring ahead, she looked up into her boyfriend’s eyes and, eventually, nodded. “The last month without you was a hell I’ve never felt before. We’re just so… tuned… to each other, that it’s just a reaction. Wake up, shower, clothes, breakfast, see what Freddie’s up to. It’s not even labeled as ‘go to school.’ I go to school because I know that’s where you’re headed, it’s not like my own mother is taking me there, or giving me pep talks on why I should go. If you hadn’t left, and kept walking with me to school, I’d still have a perfect attendance record.” She looked troubled admitting all of this, and Freddie moved to her side to hug her to himself. He wasn’t sure if that was the right move, considering their state of undress, but she needed comforting, and he couldn’t help but slip into old habits. Very reminiscent of what she was talking about.

“So I’m gonna miss you when I go back,” she admitted, shivering under his hooked arm. “I guess that’s what I’m getting at. So while you’re busy fucking the backbone out of the blonde, I’ll need a special friend, too.”

Freddie rolled his eyes. Just when he was beginning to make some headway… “Just because you gave me permission, doesn’t mean I’ll be having sex with her while you’re gone. I’m not moving on or anything.”

She leaned into his embrace. “That’s why I’m telling you. Look, going on and on about her aside – you know, calling her a bitch and all – spending a few hours with someone, intimately, changes your perspective; you know? That chick’s in love with you. We didn’t even have to lock her in here and go for a whole ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ thing.”

“I was more going for a Pavlov effect. In a sense, it backfired. Didn’t expect her to fall for me. I was trying to activate a trigger.”

“A trigger? Like every time she’s about to attack you, you snap your fingers and she drops everything and gets on all fours?”

“Um… no. More like every time she thinks about attacking me, she doesn’t.”

She chuckled dryly. “Backfire, indeed. Now when she thinks about attacking you, she’s hoping it’s on a safe day.”

He snorted. She smiled to herself. “She likes you. You like her.”

That idea sobered him. “I never said that,” he said quickly.

Maybe too quickly, in her opinion. “You’re not a slut. You’re not fucking anyone you have no attachment to. TLet me say it again; she’s in love with your goofy ass. Don’t let her down. I made a friend yesterday, and it’s safe to say she made two friends. She got into the role really fast, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had. I’ll definitely be bonding with her again, whether you’re here or not. If you want to join in on the fun, that’s your choice. Just keep in mind, I will never let you live it down if you pass her up.” She sniffed. “I’ve never told anyone I’m gay. Not even myself, for a while. I figured it out after you left. Without a dude to sit on every day, my eyes wander. And, making a safe bet, no other dudes hold a candle. But companionship really makes you think about things. And now that you know, and now that I’ve said it out loud, do you really think I can be stopped to see where the curiosity takes me?”

Freddie fell back into the bed and sighed. “Is this my new life, now? My girlfriend, either pimping me out or cuckolding me?”

“One, don’t sully the fact that you just called me your girlfriend for the first time. Secondly, yes. Be thankful. Monogamy is overrated.”

He leaned over and gazed at her with friendly, brown eyes. She had a way with her words that always made him, at the very least, play along. “You realize the many complications that can come with this game you’re playing.” It wasn’t a question. Of course she knew. “And what about condoms?”

She shrugged. “I wouldn’t be surprised if Mama Benson was sneaking some kind of experimental Columbian shit in your meals to prevent you from producing little Fredwards.”

He let out a chuckle. “Venezuelan,” he automatically corrected. It was where the chip in the back of his neck came from, anyway. “If there was ever a time for her to make up what she did to me, now would be it.”

“If there was ever a time,” Jade volunteered, “it should be if we get caught. That’s what she did, it’s only fair that we return the favor.”

It was almost a literal ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card, his mother had given him. She could have very easily been arrested for microchipping her son as a baby via the shadiest doctor she could find. It was why he could eat regular, fully cooked and non-powdered meals and not be ostracized – and probably why she hadn’t barged in after seeing the fat cakes left out.

“So, what’s the list of hotties you want to take care of while I’m here?”

“A list? There’s a list now?”

The teal-eyed girl rolled said teal eyes. “There’s always a list, babe.” She laid down on her boyfriend’s chest. “I don’t think Dana would say ‘no’ to a proposition.”

“I’m not sure you know how ‘self-control’ and ‘tact’ works.”

“I’ll be straight with you; I don’t think she does, either.” She blinked at her own words. “Well, she’ll be straight with you. Don’t know what she thinks about me.”

“I’ve created a monster.”

“No, I’ve always been a monster. But now I’m less ‘Kreuger’ and more ‘Cookie’.”

“Pun intended?”

“That’s the joke, Freddie. Keep up.” She kissed his bare chest to take the sting out of her words. She hoped for a ton of more chances to do that. “We’ve got some work to do, and very little time to do it. I mean, we could spend the rest of the long weekend in here, making sure we can never walk again, and me getting more pale than I already am, but I think our time could be better used in a long term investment.”

“Like Sam?”

“Yeah. Like Sam. Or… someone else you had in mind?”

“I’ve only been here a month. I don’t have many friends here yet.”

“Oh.” She spun lazy circles around his nipple, deep in thought, absently loving the way his body rumbled under her head. “I mean, there’s the Carly girl that was brought up all night. And conveniently, she’s right across the hall. The hype is very real, and I desperately need to see what she looks like. But a promise is a promise, I guess, until we decide to break it.” With her other hand, she picked up the forgotten camera lying between them. “Then how about we at least make you some friends? You managed to seduce Sam on your own, but I think I can help with the intro.”

Freddie thought about it, Or, at least as much as he could, seeing as he was ticklish, and Jade distracting him wasn’t helping. “I’m still not sure about multiple girlfriends – you and Sam are a handful as it is – but I could always use more friends.” Through a veil of black hair, he could see her smirk. “Don’t get cocky.”

“You called Sam your girlfriend.”

He blinked. “Oh. Slip of tongue.”

“Trust me, that tongue always knows what it’s doing.”

“You’ve got a book of those, don’t you?”

Her eyes closed for a moment. “When you’ve lived your entire life to a schedule, and then suddenly it’s gone, your reality tends to mold into your dreams. And then your dreams get out of hand. Consider what we are, right now, a fantasy come to life.”

The brunet inspected her closely, in a light he’d never seen her in before. He’d known her for almost a decade, seen her on a literally daily basis, and he’d never seen her so vulnerable, so innocent, so…

So, truly Jade? He knew she had always had the potential to be someone who could truly open up to him. She always had an air about her that kept him back, never letting him truly embrace her.

And for one weekend, and possibly more, she would let him in more than anyone, not even her mom, could ever see.

And he loved her for that; he really and honestly did.

But why? Why the vulnerability now?

“I don’t get this.” He brushed the hairs away from her eyes for an uninterrupted gaze. “Why don’t you want to keep me all to yourself? I mean, we might enjoy this for a while, but don’t you think you’re just asking for a fight if you continue with this? Don’t you think all of this could lead to jealousy? We said this already – we don’t like sharing. And that is exactly what you’re offering. So… why?”

She said nothing for a moment. A very long moment. She just stared, searching for something that he couldn’t fathom. Her finger stopped roaming his chest in favor of resting on his shoulder, and she wordlessly leaned over to straddle him, their bare forms pressing against each other, but she never lost eye contact, even as his significantly weakened body reacted to her lithe form, his flesh willing to go another round.

But she did manage to lose concentration. “I…” she started, before she cleared her throat. “You know what I don’t get? Why you just can’t enjoy this. I’m offering you something not a lot of girls get to offer, and you just toss it to the side because of some morality complex. I mean, you really looked like you were enjoying last night, and I think at this point, even she’s expecting an encore.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.” He wrapped both arms around her waist. “Maybe I’m not against any of this. Maybe I do appreciate what you’re doing for me. Maybe I do actually like Sam. And maybe you do like girls as much as I do. But why are you so desperate to try something like this? You’re going away after this weekend, and you’re okay with leaving me with Sam? Why?”

She let out a heavy groan, her head falling to just beneath his chin. “Because… because I never want you to be alone again, okay?” She sniffed. “I know how miserable I was before I left LA, and you told me how miserable you were. I don’t want that happening to you when I leave. What we did to Sam was not exactly the therapy I had planned, but at least she’s on your side now. Now, she won’t make your life hell. Now, you’ve got each other to turn to. I’m good with you wanting me, but now, at least you don’t need me. And I don’t want to need you like I did when you left. It fucking hurt. It physically hurt me, and I don’t want that pain. I love you, Freddie. But I need something to fill the void when I’m in LA. If Catherine made an offer, I would have jumped. I would have… I might have cheated on you. And I couldn’t have taken that back.”

“Jade… I cheated on you.” It wasn’t something he was proud of, but he felt she needed that reminder.

“It wasn’t the same. You were thinking about me when you did it, but you were angry. You hated me. We weren’t together at the time, and you thought you weren’t going to see me again. But what about after? We are teenagers! Raging hormones and unresolved frustration! Sometimes I feel like I won’t help myself. You couldn’t! But the next time we might be able to see each other, probably won’t be for a while.”

Freddie had to admit that she had a point. He might have dreamed of surprising her of going to the elite school of Hollywood Arts the next year as a freshman, but he doubted that his mother would have been keen on moving back to the place that she just left. “At least we can keep in contact with each other this time.”

“It won’t be enough. It’s never enough. We’re both tired of being alone. I’ll always be your number one girl – I have enough faith in that. But we don’t have to suffer together. And I didn’t want things to be unresolved between you and Sam. She’s a load of fun. And me and Cat? Who knows, something might happen, and next time I come down, she might come with me and we’ll all have some fun together?”

He took a mental step back and examined her flawed logic, before he sighed. “I guess.”

She wrinkled her nose. “How about a shower and some mouthwash before we continue this conversation?”

“Do we have to share everything, now?”

She leaned down to give him a tender kiss. “Only when we’re naked.”

It was when she slowly rolled off of him when he realized that he never wanted to be without her warm embrace again. He didn’t have that choice come next week.

Unless Sam could sneak out at night. And he was fairly sure that she could.

And then he began to see her side of the flawed logic, and realize that it wasn’t so flawed.

He followed her nude backside, her pale and flawless form, and realized that nothing could ever replace that.

But Sam’s body was just as flawless, and tantalizing. He could get used to seeing that, too. But he could never get used to being alone again.

He was almost sure it wasn’t love, but it sure wasn’t hate, at this point. Jade was his best friend, and Sam was, at the very least, his friend. And if they both truly wanted this, and… if he truly wanted this, then why was he fighting this so much?

When Sam came over tonight, they’d have a long time to talk about it.

In the meantime, Jade was getting the water ready, slipping on his non-slip sandals, winking as she did so.

He’d never gotten out of a shower dirtier then when he’d gotten in.

So, maybe there was a small part of her that was irrevocably in love with Carly. Big deal.

Of course she’d known; and maybe she’d always known. Actually acknowledging it out loud, well, that was a different thing, wasn’t it? She never fully did until Freddie put it into perspective, and Jade had just blurted it out.

It always came back to Freddie, didn’t it? Her knuckles still hurt from before, but not nearly as much as her most tender of areas, recently deflowered.

They had it right, though. Carly was her rock. Her guiding light. Whatever analogy you could use for someone as sickeningly sweet as Carly.

It shouldn’t have made sense on paper. Befriending her at all shouldn’t have made sense, in her mind, but Carly had that effect on people.

So what was her excuse for Freddie getting into her head and heart like he did?

For most of Sam’s life, she had tortured, harassed, bullied and, on occasion, maimed people. And she had done it all simply because she felt like it. She didn’t necessarily want to. She certainly didn’t need to. Most times, she wasn’t even curious. She was just bored, and felt like she could be doing more, and that was simply what she chose to do.

When Carly told her to stop doing something she shouldn’t, she did. Not because doing what she did made her feel bad, but because disobeying Carly felt bad, and she just couldn’t bring herself to say ‘no’.

Again, Carly had that effect on her. She had that effect on a lot of people, but especially her.

Maybe it was because Sam just lived to please Carly? She could believe that. Until recently, Sam didn’t believe she could ever fulfill a submissive role, but apparently that was what she’d been doing ever since she met the brunette.

But Carly wasn’t dominant. She had her moments, reigning in her best friend, but she didn’t know how to take control. Not like Freddie or Jade could.

Maybe it was appropriate that it always came back to Freddie? That was what happened the past two months of her life, anyway.

“Sam? You there?”

The blonde blinked, and found herself in the lunchroom. Leave it to him to distract her from her most favorite class in school. “Hm? What?”

She smiled softly, and even after everything she’d been through, she held her breath. “Can I get your apple?”

She picked up the fruit like it had personally offended her, like the apple was trying to enslave her too, and passed it over to her friend. “What was I gonna do with one of those, anyway? Eat it?”

“That’s usually the idea,” Carly replied, and Sam made a face. “So, about this weekend – this hobo-poking free weekend – ”

“Well, then, what’s the point of it all?”

” – I was thinking that we invite mom along. You know how rarely I get to see her, and she’s probably gonna ask us to do something with her anyway, so why not invite her this time? That way, we can plan the schedule, and dictate the place?”

The blonde considered it for a moment, mashing what passed as potatoes according to school regulations. If Maria Shay went along with them, that would mean a better chance at Carly going in before curfew. That would give her a better chance at starting off this new double life.

She didn’t mince words, even in her head. She saw the disappointment in her friend’s eyes earlier that morning, at the mention of her cancelled date. And she certainly didn’t help it when she tried pushing the two together earlier in the week.

Maybe so he could teach Carly some pointers? She didn’t know. They had connected that day in a very unconventional way, and she just wanted to return a favor for a favor. Maybe she had put his feelings before her own in that moment.

God, the idea of Carly and Freddie being her dominant lovers made the pain in her navel go away, and replace it with an uncomfortable squickiness that made her shift in her seat. A few days ago, she would have wished that Carly would have befriended Freddie to learn his secrets, and pushed him aside to let her and Sam live happily ever after.

A few days ago, she wouldn’t have even known that she wanted that, but now, she knew that would have been a perfect scenario. Until she ended up, according to a startling revelation last night, falling in love with the nerd.

Again, she never really knew what she wanted, but hindsight did.

But Jade threw a wrench into those plans. A big-ass, heavy-ass wrench. And from the very beginning, when Freddie first asked her about how to get Carly’s attention that day, it wasn’t about not giving Carly to Freddie. A part of her was now thinking that it wasn’t about that at all.

Sam was trying to keep Carly to herself, and didn’t really know why – until now.

She had fun with Freddie and Jade. She truly enjoyed what they did together the previous night.

But it – hopefully – would have nothing on what she wanted with Carly. She wanted the comradery that Freddie and Jade had. The comfortability.

The love.

“Alright,” she finally agreed. “But you gotta explain to her the rules. She can’t tell me when it’s time to leave the food court.”

“Done. Anything else?”

“Hmmm… nah. That’s about it.”

At any given moment, Freddie, Jade, or Carly would have the power to spoil her appetite. She vowed to fix that.

Hand-in-hand, Freddie and Jade walked out of the lobby into the sunlight, Jade holding a death grip onto her boyfriend. His hand had lost all feeling by the time they got to the elevator, but her other hand cutting off his circulation at his elbow was a constant reminder that she was out of her comfort zone. “Jade, you realize that you’ve been sitting on my lap for the past ten years.”

“That was different,” she replied quickly. “We were practically babies when that started. Everyone was used to it, and it was too regular to be embarrassing. Now… now, it’s a statement.”

The fact that she cared at all about outside opinions told him how drastically she was willing to change for him – how out of her element she was. “If I yelled at the top of my lungs that I’m in love with Jadelyn West, would that break the ice?”

She glared up at him. “You’ll find yourself with a punctured lung before you can get it out.”

Freddie grinned. At least her grip was loosened. “So, what do you wanna do here that we can’t do in LA?”

“Besides Sam? How about… the Needle? Or the Science Center?”

“Too young for both – I’ve tried.”

“Fucking…” she muttered under her breath. “What can a couple of kids do without those pesky parents on our backs? Is there a local pool around?”

“I’m… not sure…I’ve never looked.”

“Well, if you want to shop around for potential benefits, the pool is the best place.”

“On weekends.”

“Oh… shit.”

“We got ahead of ourselves. School’s in session now.”

The girl sighed and walked a little faster with her boyfriend, escaping the curious eyes that followed them that she just now noticed. “Looks like we can’t go anywhere without people asking why we aren’t at school.” Another frustrated sigh. “I was going to wait a little bit later, but I guess it can’t be avoided – let’s drop by at Dana’s.”

Freddie had almost suggested going back upstairs and seeing if Spencer was doing anything – he seemed to be a pretty cool guy, not willing to rat on him for skipping school for a day – but that would’ve opened a can of worms that he was not willing to deal with this weekend. “Dana’s it is. You know where she lives?”

“She typed it into my TekMate on the plane. It’s not very far from here. I’ve got to get Cat’s number from her, too. I have her skype, but since you don’t have internet…”

His eyes lingered on the joint across the street – the Groovy Smoothie. A part of him wanted to take Jade into the shop, but thought better of it. For one, Jade didn’t care much for smoothies, especially after she had freshly brewed coffee.

Two, and maybe he was being sentimental, but he felt that the establishment was sacred in a way – it was something he and Carly and Sam shared. Granted, he and Jade had shared Sam the previous night, so he didn’t think the blonde would mind if he stepped into a smoothie store with her, but Carly…

It just felt wrong. He knew he would never sit with anyone else under their tree across from the park back home.

It would be hilarious to Jade how he tried to keep some sense of honor, and the ‘sudden’ realization didn’t elude him.

“Hold on…” he stopped, pulling his sling pack around to his front with his free arm. Jade quickly released his dominant arm, and he smiled gratefully in response, before unzipping the bag.

Jade scoffed as he pulled out the old instant analog camera. “Do you even know how to use one of those?”

“I don’t even have the film,” he admitted. “But now, we look like a couple of tourists walking through Seattle. We could still stop by Dana’s.”

She weighed the options in her head. “I promised I’d tell her if there were any ‘developments’. She was really invested in our little reunion.” Jade felt no real need to remind her boyfriend that she didn’t send her little love song herself. “Let’s just pop by for a minute, since we still don’t have anywhere to really go. I bet we’ll still need an ID to go to any mall on a weekday.”

He slipped the camera, equipped with strap, around his neck. “And how much do you plan on telling her?”

“As much as you want to tell her. And… as much as she wants to hear.”

Sam was new to all of the emotions that had come her way in the past week. That much was very clear to her, no matter how much she was in denial about the emotions themselves.

So when Carly stretched her arms high above her head, swiveling her long neck in preparation for the Algebra assignment in front of her, Sam’s brain misfired.

That had never happened before. Never was she so transfixed at Carly. She could barely compare it to seeing a whole new person. It was the same old Carly.

And that was what she loved about it. Only now, could she actively appreciate it.

Of course, she had always loved her best friend, as more than a best friend. All those romantic things she had seen on TV, she had pictured Carly with her – holding hands, sharing smoothies, all that junk. She never really put a label on it. That’s just how it went. It never really got more complicated than that.

Okay, maybe a tiny part of her, a part that she ignored, because she really didn’t want to put the ebony-haired girl in such a lewd mindset, because she didn’t belong there… but a part of her had always known that she wanted to fuck Carly.

There was a purity about the girl that Sam could never aspire to, so she never tried. But when she thought about her best friend, it just seemed wrong.

Of course, the girl was sweet, and good, and everything Sam wasn’t. So, the only way that the two could be together, was for Sam to change. Not the other way around, despite her numerous attempts to get Carly to join the dark side.

In fact, Carly won that fight a little bit every day, when she got Sam to reign in her temper and violence. No, that wasn’t right. Carly didn’t help Sam reign it in, she simply did it herself. She reigned Sam in. It was an odd master/slave relationship, and for the longest time, Neither even knew they had those assigned roles. Jade had merely pointed it out to Sam.

And then she set the example.

She didn’t do anything drastic. A few light swats on her butt, and a little bossing around, and aside from the part where she yanked her head back and speared her into a wall, she had gone easy on the blonde.

If there was absolutely any chance that Carly would want to hold Sam like Freddie and Jade did, and touch her in the ways that only those two could, then she would have considered a meet-up.

Even if that included sharing.

Things used to be simple. Not anymore.

Carly would never touch her – especially after what happened last night. But what’s done is done, and all she could do was enjoy her life, and be with the people that actually wanted to be with her.

Because she did love them, and want them. Just not as much as she wanted Carly, but that was understandable. Either way, it was a forbidden, impossible, broken way of love.

Sam Puckett’s eyes shifted away from her refreshed partner, and for once, didn’t complain about the assignment. She needed a distraction.

Carly was worried for her friend.

She’d never really seen Sam in a ponytail before since she was younger. She’d seen Melanie in a ponytail, but she could see the differences, even physically. Even when she wasn’t smiling, the more joyous twin had dimples. Truthfully, she felt that Sam would look great with a ponytail, as she had told her on Monday. Maybe she heeded her advice for once?

New hairstyle, new shampoo… it was clear that Sam had a crush on someone. Or, she was excited about hanging out for the weekend with her and her mom. Maybe she felt that she needed to remind her mother why she originally gave her daughter permission to be friends with such a rebel.

She could see that Sam was making an honest and true effort to be a nicer person. Well, at least, she hadn’t broken anyone’s thumbs lately.

Carly still couldn’t tell if that was a good thing or a terrible thing. Sam could be trying to change, sure, but she could also be pacing herself for something special.

She almost hoped it was the latter. This new Sam was worrying her, simply because she wasn’t being herself. She’d be okay with it if she told her why, but… nothing.

Carly was known to be quite the impatient girl. If something was bothering her best friend in the world, then it was up to Carly to figure it out.

It was that simple.

“Jesus, you’re cute.”

Jade snorted, while Freddie blinked rapidly at the Hispanic girl’s forwardness. “Um, thanks. You too?”

Quickly looking back, Dana slipped over the threshold of the door and closed it behind her. “Sorry – no boys allowed in the house. I guess you didn’t have that kind of problem last night?”

“Mama Benson wasn’t home last night,” Jade curtly informed her. “And she wasn’t there this morning. She left a note and breakfast.” That was the advantage of having a nurse as an only parent – always a busy schedule. “She should be back later today, and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

While Jade was explaining the absence of his mother, Freddie found himself looking at the house they were in front of. The two-story house was modest-looking at first sight, though it extended to the back far more than it was wide.

That was the sort of house that Freddie always wanted – modest, but roomy. He would have to talk to Jade and Sam about it, later.

The gravity of that simple thought – as natural as it was, it should have scared him, and worried him. But it didn’t. in fact, he couldn’t have been more excited at the prospect.

Unbidden, he smiled at Jade’s new friend. “I want to thank you. And the rest of your friends. If it weren’t for you, I would’ve never…” he quickly cleared his throat. “It might have been years before we tried to make up.”

Dana couldn’t have even fathomed the deep history between the two, the struggles, and the love the young couple could harness for each other. But she had an inkling. “No problem, Freddie.” It sounded genuine, and she intended it to be that way. “If I had someone like you, I’d fly across the country for them, too.”

Jade chose not to acknowledge that statement, giving her boyfriend’s hand a gentle squeeze before commenting, “I told you we shouldn’t have come here. So, your dad’s alright? Considering you’re enforcing his ‘no boys’ rule?”

And just like that, the mood of their newest friend improved. She talked animatedly about her father’s recovery, and how she might have to stay for a few more days to take care of him.

That got the couple’s attention.

“So, we can stay for a few more days?” Jade whispered, her voice betraying her with a slight higher pitch at the end.

“Maybe the end of the week,” Dana whispered conspiratorially, grinning with the couple.

Freddie had mixed feelings about that, but outwardly, he was happy. He was worried about the days of school Jade would be missing, but they were far and away from actively discussing something like that with her. It would only lead to an argument.

You’re learning, he told himself.

It was finally time to appreciate the things he had, in the here and now. It was that thought that propelled him to offer his condolences and services to Dana’s father.

“I’m the son of a nurse,” he shrugged at the two girls, who stared at him in confusion. “I want to get on your dad’s good side. Why not try?”

“Uh… sure. I mean, go for it.”

Freddie, with a grateful smile, let himself into the house, and the two girls lingered behind.

Dana eyed Jade suspiciously. “Why would he want to get on the good side of mi papá?”

Jade pursed her lips, not very sure herself. Unless Freddie was actively embracing the topic they had this morning, which she figured would have taken all weekend. “I guess he’s finally starting to see what I’ve known this whole time.”

“What? That he wants to be the next Doogie Howser?”

She scoffed. “He probably could.” She grinned broadly. “So… what are you doing this weekend? Because I got a few ideas.”

Dana had no idea what Jade could possibly begin to talk about, and even then, she felt so many emotions at once.

She had dealt with boy-crazy girls in her life, so getting to know Jade had renewed her faith that sometimes, girls had a reason to be super weird about the opposite gender. She was rather neutral about it. No pull or inclination, just curiosity at best.

Jade and Freddie had her curious. And she was starting to feel that Jade could sense that in her.

“How would you…” she paused. She took a deep breath. “How would you like an acting job?”

“I’d… what?”

“Acting? Performance, drama, putting yourself out there?” She gave a lopsided grin. “See, Freddie was telling me about this show he wanted to start up…”

Freddie and Sam might have taken a few hours to convince, but she knew it would take more than that to convince other girls. She didn’t want fuck buddies. Not with Dana, not with Cat, and not with Sam.

She and Freddie had been alone, together, for the past thirteen years. At this point, she wanted more than friends. She wanted them to have a network.

Freddie showed more than a little interest in being a technical producer. He could be a great recording artist, of course, and a fantastic film director, one that she would keep in mind for the future, but they both needed a lot of help. Something for all of them, and so much more. Something to keep them busy, and connected, and never alone again. A nice little project for the both of them to explore, based on friendship and – maybe – a successful partnership, in and out of professionalism.

And that, in Jade’s mind, was the beginning of the Benson Burner Project. Title pending.