Author's Note: I'm so sorry that it's been so long but between my being sick, being out of town, and then having family visit, it's been a little nuts on my end. However, as always, my first order of business will be to thank my faithful reviewers, both old and new!

Laur1532: ~checks mirror to see if horns are sprouting from head~ Yep, what I did to George was mean but such an effective tool, don't you think? J Thanks and keep R/R!

WildWatermelon: Hi! Welcome! I'm happy you like the story. Thanks and keep R/R!

itsallaboutme: Hi! Welcome! Ah, the art of the cliffhanger… keeps you guessing… Melissa isn't involved this time but something sinister is at work. Read on! Thanks and keep R/R!

JMW: Congratulations! You are officially the 100th reviewer! ~throws ticker tape and blows whistles while doing a happy dance~ Okay, I know this doesn't make sense now, but I promise all will be revealed soon. I know, I'm evil for stopping where I did but that's half the fun of having creative control. Mwahahaha! LOL! Thanks and keep R/R!

ScreamMyHeadOff: I promise, I'm going to explain it all in the coming chapter. And to amend, Carissa broke up with George. That's important. You've never head the expression "that's the pot calling the kettle black?" It means don't criticize someone else for faults you yourself have. Thanks and keep R/R!

goo goo ga ga 00: No one saw the break up coming. At least you saw the distinction! Todd and Rachel are adorable. I hope the phone number is still in service… hehe! Thanks hon and keep R/R!

Kristin: Number one question from everyone… "what's up with George and Carissa?" LOL! I promise, I'm going to explain things, just let me type it! I hope I do it in enough time though… ~looks out window searching for angry mob~ Thanks and keep R/R!

chineezchoptix: Hi! A new reviewer! I love new reviewers! I feel bad for George too… I'm going to take care of things in my own time! Read on… thanks and keep R/R!

Lozz: You know, everyone feels bad for George… and to think he started off as such a jerk, hehe! It's not that he's sensitive, he's just had his heart ripped out and stomped on. I promise, all will be revealed! Thanks and keep R/R!

Aleeria: LOL! I know! George and Carissa are cute together but what is going on? ~devilish grin~ Don't worry, I'm getting to the grand master scheme! Thanks, sweetie and keep R/R!

Jenna: Yes, George and Carissa broke up… it's not just you but everyone seems to be upset by that. Please don't die, you won't see what happens next! Thanks and keep R/R!

Laire Eleni: A new reviewer! Hihi! Welcome! About George and Carissa… well, you'll just have to read on about them. Hehe! I'm glad you like the story. Thanks and keep R/R!

griffin924: I'm going to explain what happened, I promise! Here's the next chapter for you. I'll read your story as soon as I can get a chance. Thanks and keep R/R!

Whitney: A new reviewer! Yay! I'm glad you're enjoying the story. Here's the next part for you. Thanks and keep R/R!

marie: Another new reviewer! Here's the next update. Hope you enjoy this chappie just as much! Thanks and keep R/R!

FireBringer: First off, welcome! Wow, you think this is brilliant? Oh boy, my head is starting to inflate again… hehe! Everyone has felt so bad for George but hopefully we can alleviate some of his pain soon. You'll have to keep reading to find out. Thanks and keep R/R!

Alrighty then… that's everyone! Now onwards to the next chapter. As always, review, review, review! Constructive criticism is always welcome, but NO FLAMES! Flames are mean and mean people suck!

Chapter 29

Both Todd and Rachel's jaws unhinged and went slack. "What?!" Todd asked incredulously. "Why?" It was too strange. He has seen the two of them looking completely, blissfully in love just before school and now Carissa had mysteriously broken up with him? Something was horribly wrong and he was determined to get to the root of the problem.

"I don't know. Before I could ask 'Rissa why she was doing it, she ran out of here and Danielle and Ashley followed her, promising to straighten it out, but not before 'Rissa made a rather public scene of breaking up with me and now everyone is inside enjoying my misery. I've gotta get out of here," George decided, hastily wiping away tears that were now uncontrollably cascading down his olive-skinned face.

"Whoa, hold it there killer," Todd told him, holding out his arm to prevent George from passing. "Rach, did anything out of the ordinary happen when you saw her this morning in biology?"

"She was fine," Rachel said. "The main office called for her during our lab period… wait!" she exclaimed with a snap of her fingers, a sudden realization dawning on her. "I don't know what they told her went she went down but she looked sort of nervous and frightened when she came back," Rachel revealed.

"Frightened?" George jumped in. "What did they say to her?"

"Easy there, killer, I don't know. Carissa was dodging all of our questions," Rachel told him defensively.

"Who would want to frighten 'Rissa? I don't get it. She's the sweetest person I've ever known. And why does it mean she has to leave me? Where do I fit into this? Why-"

"George, I don't know! Stop asking me questions I don't have answers to," Rachel cut in harshly.

"Sorry, but I think if Todd suddenly dropped you like a bad habit you'd be stuttering like a buffoon too," George snapped at her.

"Both of you stop," Todd jumped in as Rachel's jaw hung agape. Just by the look on her face it was clear she wasn't accustomed to George rendering her speechless. "Nothing will get solved if you snap at each other."

"Sorry," George and Rachel mumbled quietly to each other.

"Alright, then," Todd said as he took a deep breath. His mind began to turn as to how he was going to work through the situation as it was presented. Fortunately, he had inherited his father's calm demeanor and his mother's ability to rationalize and take control of a situation, which clearly gave him the upper hand to think clearly and rationally right then. "Okay, Rach, why don't you go find Carissa and see if she can shed some light on what she was thinking. George, you and I are-"

"I'm going home. I can't be here right now," George declared before listening to Todd's proposal.

"You're not going anywhere until we get to the bottom of this," Todd ordered.

"I'm gonna check the bathrooms for Carissa," Rachel said quickly. She shot George a pitying glance, gave Todd a quick parting kiss on the cheek, and scurried to the nearest bathroom to begin her search for Carissa.

"George, why don't we go to the deli and grab some lunch before our next class. On the way there you can-"

"I'm not hungry."

"Well, I am," Todd retorted. "Starved even. So you're coming with me to get food mainly just to get you out of here to clear your head and hopefully by the time we get back the girls will figure out who or what frightened Carissa into breaking up with you." Todd's tone of voice made it clear he wasn't offering George to go with him; he was ordering him too. George knew well enough not to cross Todd when he took that tone of voice. Besides, he had made a point he couldn't ignore.

"You think someone forced her to break up with me?" George's face registered shock and confusion.

"Makes sense, doesn't it? This morning the both of you are off in your own private lovesick world, then she gets called out of lab and when she returns, someone or something had her spooked. Someone had to have scared her off. Think, George. Is there anyone- anyone at all- who has something against you?"

"Uh, besides Melissa, half the cheerleading squad, Joe, Damian, and Nick who've been pretty pissed at me for- and I quote- 'blowing them off lately', any number of kids who hate me because up until recently I had treated them like dirt since junior high-"

"Perhaps I should amend that," Todd cut in with a wince. George certainly was not helping his own case. "Is there anyone who might want you and Carissa to not be together anymore?"

"Well, Melissa would have been my first guess but she's in my first and second period classes and didn't go anywhere this morning. It couldn't have been her," George thought aloud.

"Anyone in Carissa's family maybe?" Todd pressed on.

"Her mom loves me. I've known Janet since I was a baby," George told him. "But… well, Carissa's dad died back when we were in fifth grade and her mom recently got remarried, like before Thanksgiving-"

"I remember you mentioning him," Todd said, remembering the conversation he and George had before Valentine's Day. "What was his name?"

"Patrick," George supplied. "He's a control freak and he's pretty harsh on 'Rissa but I don't see why he'd… unless there's something more 'Rissa hasn't told me…" George trailed off.

"Let's go. Whatever it is, Rachel will tell me next period. Then we can all meet after school, settle this, and you and Carissa can return to being blissfully in love," Todd said with a slight smile. It was meant to cheer George up but he wasn't entirely sure George was convinced.

George played along anyway. "Yeah. I hope so," George said sadly, trying to put a brave smile on. "All I have to do is survive the taunting and ridicule from everyone else- including my so-called best friends- for the rest of the day."

"Maybe they aren't really your friends then," Todd pointed out as the pair reached Todd's car.

"Yeah. It took long enough but I'm starting to get that."

Two hours later, after school, George met back with Todd in the chorus room, waiting for the girls to arrive. George was nervously pacing in front of the room, casting an occasional glance at the heavy wooden door at the entrance to note if anyone had appeared. After lunch, George had gone back to class enduring a range of reactions from his classmates. Some pitied him, knowing that he was in a good deal of emotional pain but others openly taunted him, criticizing him for not even being able to hold on to the "good girl." His concentration was shot and he was reduced to scribbling illegible doodles on paper that was supposed to be filled with class notes.

"Are you okay?" Todd asked George, noticing the look of sorrow on his friend's face.

"She is coming, right? I mean, she said-"

"Rachel said Carissa would explain everything after school and wanted you to meet Carissa here. She couldn't tell me more than that before the bell rang, otherwise I'd tell you," Todd explained.

"Sorry we're late," Rachel's melodic voice broke in as she, Carissa, Danielle, and Ashley all simultaneously burst through the door. "We had to tell Carissa's stepdad not to pick her up cuz she had some last minute extra help class to go to."

"He wanted to stay and wait but we had to convince him it would be a while and one of us would drive her home," Danielle added. "Seriously, Carissa, he is such a control freak. I mean, he's not even your dad but he's trying to run you're life and you're not even-"

"Girls- and Todd- can I just talk to George for a little bit? Alone?" Carissa asked, emphasizing the alone part. She had already taken several tentative steps toward George, locking a longing gaze with him as she spoke hollowly to her friends.

"We'll be in the office if you need us," Rachel told Carissa, nodding her head towards the office door to signal everyone to follow her. Leading everyone through a second wooden door, the group left George and Carissa alone.

"How long do you think they'll be?" Ashley asked once they were alone in the music department office.

"Why? Have an important date you're missing?" Danielle asked her sarcastically.

"No… but since we can't spy on them-"

"Oh, ye of great forgetfulness," Rachel grinned. Pointed to a tinted window in the room, she added, "Did you forget about how this window works?"

Todd glanced at what Rachel was talking about. "Wait isn't this that dark plastic thing in the chorus room?"

"Uh-huh. From the chorus room you can't see in but from in here we can see everything out there," Rachel explained.

"Like the peephole on the front door of peoples' houses," Todd added in revelation. "So that's how Newman always knows who is acting up when she goes into the office during class."

"I never even noticed it," Danielle said. "Todd, your girlfriend is a genius."

"I know," he beamed proudly. Coming up behind Rachel and putting his hands on her shoulders and rubbing them soothingly, Todd whispered in her ear, "Any progress?"

"They're talking. It's a start," Rachel said with a sigh. Todd's fingers were taking away the tension that had built up in her during the day, finally urging her body to relax into his.

"Have to start somewhere, I suppose," he agreed. "Listen, about what George said to you earlier-"

"He was right," Rachel interrupted turning her body around to face him. "Don't ever tell him I said that, but he was right. I would be lost if you left me."

"I wouldn't do that," he assured her, reaching up to push strands of silky blonde hair behind her ear. His hand came to rest on her cheek. "Just don't leave me either."

"Already learned that lesson the hard way on New Years," Rachel admitted. "Both of us hurt too much afterwards." Rachel stood on tiptoes and kissed him, feeling as though she was floating when he returned and deepened it. Both were so entranced by the power and passion that they almost forgot Danielle and Ashley were still in the room with them. Almost.

Danielle uncomfortably cleared her throat to get their attention. "Why don't you two get a room?" she suggested pointedly and none too subtly.

Todd and Rachel flushed a brilliant red as they immediately broke off the kiss, realizing they did have an audience. "Right," Todd said nervously to Danielle and Ashley rubbing his hand through his hair as he often did when he was embarrassed. To Rachel, taking the chance to change the subject, he added, "So, uh, what did you learn from Carissa during lunch?"

Rachel readily went with the change in subject. "Carissa's stepfather dropped off her violin this morning," Rachel started. "Apparently, while he was here, he pulled her aside and pretty much ordered her to break things off with George."

"Why would he care?" Todd wondered.

"I'm sure you've heard this from George but her stepdad is a control freak," Rachel stated. "According to Carissa, he said he didn't want a 'dirty little whore' living under his roof- which is about as far from Carissa's nature as possible- and he threatened to actually kill George. Carissa said he had a gun and everything. Could this guy be any more creepy?"

"Maybe this guy is a cop and he was on his way to work," Todd tried to reason. "Seriously, kill George? Okay, he might not be the sharpest tack in the box but all in all he's harmless."

"That's what I said. But Carissa said he's an accountant who hunts upstate for fun. He has a few rifles and shotguns in the house and he knows how to use them," Rachel explained. "I'm sure you can imagine that when she saw him carrying a weapon she freaked out."

"Understandably."

"Anyway, she was afraid Patrick might be hanging around to make sure she did as he instructed which is why she made the 'breakup' as loud and public as possible. Although I don't understand why the guy would hang around to witness that. I mean, he must have had to go to work."

"If he was still around then he'd know- along with everyone else for that matter- what she'd done," Todd said more to himself to Rachel. He was trying to work through himself what Patrick's motives might have been. The scenario was certainly not something he had ever been witness to. He had never had a friend with a parent- or stepparent in this case- who was willing to do whatever it took to control their life.

"Yeah. And the irony is, she only went along with this because she was protecting George from getting hurt. Instead, the poor guy got his heart pretty smashed, even though physically he's in one piece," Rachel said sadly.

"He's a wreck," Todd agreed. Wreck was actually putting it nicely. In Todd's opinion, basketcase would more accurately describe George's current state of emotions. He kept that bit of information to himself, however, not wanting to add salt to the wound.

"So was Carissa. I've never seen her cry so much. Hell, I've never seen her cry at all until today. We told her she needed to tell a counselor or talk to Dr. D or someone like that, but she begged not to. She seems to think she'll be in enough trouble with Patrick if he finds out she told us. She's scared of him. Scared he might even hurt us," Rachel informed him, giving an involuntary shudder at the thought.

Todd looked horrified at Rachel's revelation but did his best to keep his composure, pulling her into his arms and squeezing her body protectively. "He hasn't threatened you. Not yet and hopefully not ever. And I promise I won't let him either," Todd assured her, stroking her hair and placing feathery soft kisses on her forehead.

"It was scary for all of us to hear her say that so I can't even imagine what George must be thinking right now," Rachel whispered, drawing strength from Todd's warmth and protectiveness. "Carissa is pretty scared but she wants nothing more than to be back with George."

"Ditto for George. You should have seen him during lunch. I've never seen him so wrecked- and he wasn't even drunk. To think, just this morning he was telling me how great things have been between he and Carissa."

The pair turned to look through the tinted one-way window just in time to spot George tenderly gathering Carissa in his arms and beginning to place tiny kisses along her forehead. Todd and Rachel both could swear tears were spilling down each of their cheeks. "Oh, look!" Rachel whispered happily from the comfort of Todd's arms.

Danielle and Ashley sprang up from their seats where they had begun their Economics homework and squealed when they saw George and Carissa through the window. "Aw, how cute!" Danielle squealed.

"Is he crying?" Ashley asked.

"That's adorable!" Danielle added. "I think Carissa is too."

"I'm going to congratulate them," Ashley declared.

"Ashley, wait!" Rachel yelled but it was too late. Ashley had already bounded through the door and was beginning to happily congratulate the pair.

"Come on," Todd motioned to Rachel and Danielle. "Cat's outta the bag."

"How'd you know-" George was starting to ask as everyone reappeared. Todd noticed he was cautiously glancing at the entrance to the room.

"One way window. You can't see in but we can see out," Ashley pronounced proudly as though she were incredibly clever of herself.

"This is so great," Danielle added. "Now you two can be happy again!"

George and Carissa glanced nervously at each other from where they were wrapped in each other's arms. "Um, guys, you can't tell anyone about this," Carissa said quietly. "This isn't exactly the ideal solution but I don't want anyone getting hurt so if Patrick finds out…" Carissa broke into tears again and buried her face into George's shoulder to conceal her sobs.

"If anyone asks tell them Rissa and I are just good friends," George said quietly, gently stroking Carissa's hair to soothe her. He was trying to be strong for Carissa but tears were pooling in the corners of his eyes as well. "At least for now."

"But you both… are you still-" Ashley started.

"Together?" Carissa finished. She turned to George and looked into his eyes, nodding her head slightly. "Yes." They smiled lovingly at one another before Carissa turned back to her friends. "And you four are the only ones who know besides us. It stays that way until I say so, got it?"

"We promise!" Danielle and Ashley proclaimed.

"Are you both sure you're okay with this?" Todd asked cautiously, referring to their now "secret" relationship. "Don't you think this is a little dangerous? What is Patrick were to find out?"

"We don't have a choice for the time being," George sighed as he gave Carissa's shoulders a squeeze. "But if this is the only way I can stay with my 'Rissa, then it's what I'll have to do." His face held a steely resolve, as though he was determined to make the best of a bad situation.

"We'll just take things a day at a time for now," Carissa added, snuggling her head into George's shoulder once more.

"We should get you home before Patrick starts looking for you," George suggested to her as he stole a glance at the clock.

"I'll take you home," Rachel offered to Carissa. "I'm sure it would be easier for George to but we shouldn't raise any suspicion."

"Thanks," Carissa said gratefully. "Can I just have a few minutes though?" She nodded her head to George as an explanation.

Nodding her understanding, Rachel told her, "Meet me outside when you're ready," she told George and Carissa. The friends left the room then, Todd with his arm draped over Rachel's shoulders. Both paused in the doorway and glanced back in time to George and Carissa cuddled in one another's arms with George carefully stroking her hair and kissing her forehead. Rachel suddenly felt a pang of pity for them to be so obviously in love yet have no choice than to keep it hidden. She knew if she were ever in their position, it would absolutely kill her. It made her want to do something truly special for them. Suddenly, an idea came to her. "Todd…"

"Yes?"

"How would you feel if we let George and Carissa join us for part of our date this weekend?"

"Depends on where we're going," Todd said. He knew they needed to pay careful attention to where they went in the event that anyone was watching George and Carissa, namely Patrick.

"Nowhere too public," Rachel assured him. "I mean, it's public, but not a lot of kids from school go there."

"Then I say why not," Todd agreed as he guided Rachel toward the exit to the parking lot. "George told me this morning he and Carissa wanted to take us out for a double date but this- whatever this date is since you haven't told me-"

"Cuz it's a surprise," she cut in with a laugh.

"This date would be good for them," he finished, grinning along with her.

"I'm glad you agree. But the deal is, I get you all to myself Saturday night," Rachel informed him, wrapping her arms around his midsection and planting her lips against his.

"And what exactly do you have planned for then?" he asked, returning her kiss fully and firmly.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" she asked coyly.

"Yes," he nodded, grinning from ear to ear.

"This must be driving you crazy," she pressed on. "Cuz for all you know, I might start vamping around in a black leather catsuit, stiletto heels, and a whip-"

"What?!" Todd was incredulous. Rachel was not the type of person to "vamp around."

Laughing at the look on his face, Rachel asked him, "Do you actually think I'm serious?"

"I, uh, don't know?" Todd was feeling a little small under Rachel's coy look.

"I'm no sado-masochist," she assured him. "But the look on your face…"

"You would look sexy as hell in a black leather catsuit though," he recovered, images of Rachel's slender waist and curvy hips swaggering told him in a black leather number. His lips curled upwards as the thought flitted across his mind.

"You dirty, dirty, horny man!" she scolded in a British accent, lightly swatting at his arm as she noticed the look on his face. There was no doubt in her mind that he was picturing her body clad in a black leather catsuit.

"Oh, come on, you started it!" he laughed. "You're the one who put the image in my mind to begin with."

Playfully sticking her tongue out at him, she told him, "I'll plan out the details- for real- and even though it will not involve me stumbling around in ridiculously high stilettos and a skintight catsuit-"

"Damn!"

"I promise, you'll end up liking it."

Todd wrapped his arms around her waist and twirled her around, kissing her deeply before saying, "My darling, if it comes from you, I know I'll love it."