A crisp, fall breeze rustled the red and orange leaves in his front yard, disfiguring the neat pile that had been so meticulously created only the night before. The sun was just peeking over the horizon, casting a crimson glow over the whole valley, but there was still an icy chill that hung in the air; a constant reminder of what was still to come. It was that time of the year when the golden hues of autumn began to fade into the browns and grays of winter. The squirrels were gathering nuts and acorns, and huge flocks of geese were seen flying south in faultless formations. Suddenly, the door swung open, shattering the serenity of the morning.

"Bye mom!" Daniel yelled, and before she could get in a proper reply, slammed the door and was halfway down the driveway.

Today was a good day. He had everything under his control. All of his homework was done, he'd remembered to pack himself an extra sandwich for lunch, and most importantly, he'd charmed a trendy girl into liking him. He wasn't totally sure how he felt about her yet, but he knew that quite a few guys envied him because of her, and it felt pretty good to be envied. She was definitely decent looking (well.better than decent); she was smart, and even funny. Not only that but she was fun to be around and had an awesome sense of humor. But then, so did lots of other girls.

'If you can get Meg to like you,' he thought to himself, 'think of all the other girls you could get! Not bad, not bad.'

He finally arrived at the corner and began waiting for the bus. He'd gotten there a little too early and no one else was there yet, so he sat down on the curb and pulled out his Discman. The first chords of "Butterfly" were playing when something caught his eye. A little farther down the street, something pink and paper-like was fluttering in the breeze. He stood up, trying to get a better look, but he still couldn't tell what it was. He decided to go take a look. After all, it could be something cool.

But when he got near enough to see what it was, his nose wrinkled in distaste. It was a rose.

Of course, it couldn't be anything cool like Japanese Yen, or a girl's note; it had to be a rose, and a wilting one at that.

He was just about to walk away when an odd thought struck him. Meg liked roses.

Especially pink roses. He remembered her saying so at her choir concert when her grand parents had given her a bouquet of them. They were her favorite.

But why would he do something sentimental like that? No guy in his right mind would give a girl that they were not dating a rose, unless they were trying to date her.

Still.it would make her really happy. And even if he still wanted to test some of his other options, she was his friend, and she was not bad looking.

Reluctantly, he picked it up, and pulled a tissue from his pocket to wrap it up in. After all, he couldn't be seen carrying a rose. What kind of reputation would that give him? Other people were finally arriving at the bus stop, so he walked over to join them.

"Yo Dan!" called Justin raising his hand for a high five as he approached.

"Hey man, what's up?" he laughed. They began talking about XBOX, girls, and their weekend.

"I hear Meg's got the hots for you. How'd you manage that?" Justin only half teased.

"Don't know. Animal magnetism, I guess," he smiled.

Justin snorted, "Yeah right. But I can't believe how lucky you got! Meg? Man, she is fine."

"Maybe you should ask her out, then," Daniel suggested.

"What? You don't like her?" Justin asked incredulously, "Dude, you're crazy. If she liked me, I'd ask her out in a second. Just about every guy would. What's the matter with you?"

"I don't know, man. But there are other girls out there who are pretty hot, and just as nice. I think I should look around a little more."

Justin stared at him open-mouthed, then his mouth widened into a smile.

"P-I-M-P, Dan man! I never expected it from you. That's cool and all, but I think I should warn you. Lots of girls don't like guys with big heads. And if you don't make a move now, but decide you want to later, I have a feeling that she won't be "on the market" anymore. Believe me, I know from experience."

Daniel laughed. Justin had a reputation of being quite the ladies' man. But he'd been having a little trouble getting any dates lately because he was a player, and everyone knew it.

"It doesn't mean that I'm going to get a big head, I just know there's a whole lot of other girls out there worth liking, and I'm not going to be tied down to some girl, no matter how fine she may be. Besides, I think she'll hold out a little longer. It's not like some guy's going to pop out with a bouquet of roses and steal her away." Daniel said resolutely.

"Whatever you say, Dan. I still say you're out of your mind."

They laughed again, and moved into the line to board the bus. As Daniel was walking up the steps of the bus, some annoying seventh grader bumped into him, causing the rose to fall out of his pocket.

"Dude, watch where you're going," Daniel said angrily. He hated how all the little seventh graders thought they could rule the school and get whatever they wanted, just because they were the babies.

He leaned down to pick up the tissue paper, but Justin got to it first, seeing the pink petals sticking out of the wad.

"Daniel.what's this dude? A flower??" he was howling by now, and half the bus had turned around to see what was going on.

Daniel hastily ripped the rose out of his friend's hand, and started walking to the back of the bus, his face flaming.

Justin followed along behind him, still laughing to himself. When they finally got to their normal seats, Justin was still bugging him about it, so he decided it wouldn't hurt to tell him who and what the flower was for. Anything to get him off his back.

"Look. I found it on the sidewalk, and I remembered that it was Meg's favorite flower, so I thought I'd give it to her. You know, as a friend." He knew his face must be on fire, so he looked away.

Justin's eyes were wide and sparkling as he grinned at Daniel mischievously. "Uh oh Daniel. Look out. I think she's finally got to you. I knew there was no way anyone could resist her, and you proved me right." He laughed triumphantly, and only stuck his fingers in his ears when Daniel tried to protest.

"I don't want to hear it, man," he said, shaking his head from side to side. "Just admit it. You like her."

"No I don't," Daniel said firmly. She was an awesome friend and all, and completely beautiful, but he really did not like her the way she obviously wanted him to.

"I'm not listening, I'm not listening," Justin said in a sing-song voice, closing his eyes and jiggling his head. "You want to k-i-i-s-s her, you want to h-o-o-l-d her, you want to l-o-o-v--"

"Shut up!" Daniel yelled. Gosh, he was so annoying sometimes. Not to mention humiliating.

"Who does Daniel want to kiss?"

They both looked up to see Tyson Reeves grinning at them. Tyson was one of those immature jocks whose vocabulary was limited to football, kissing, girls, and sex. Unfortunately for the girls, he'd also been blessed with movie star-like good looks.

Daniel gave Justin the evil eye and said, rather sharply, "Nobody!" at the same time Justin said, "Meg!"

Daniel went into Turbo Death Glare mode, but Justin just grinned back at him, either oblivious to what he'd just done, or just plain stupid.

"Meg Nelson?" Tyson asked. For some reason, his face looked surprisingly pained. Maybe he had blister or something that was bugging him.

Justin noticed too.

"You okay, man?" he asked with concern.

"Yeah, sure.stomachache," Tyson replied, sounding distracted. "So.Dan.you really like her then? I mean, I heard she liked you, but I wasn't sure."

"Oh yeah," Justin broke in, giving Tyson a conspiratol nod, "Dan definitely has the hots for her. He even found this rose, and now he's going to give it to her because, get this, it's her favorite flower! Man, he should get an award, or something."

He jabbed Daniel in the ribs and laughed loudly, and Daniel expected Tyson to join him, but he never did. Aside from a weak chuckle, he never even attempted to sound amused.

Strange.

Daniel really felt the need to explain himself just about then, so he said, "Don't listen to Justin. He's just a little doped up right now. I don't like Meg like that. I'm giving her the rose in a friendly way."

Justin snorted, but those words had a very strange effect on Tyson. Maybe Daniel was just imagining things, but to him, Tyson looked extremely relieved.

"Really? Just as a friend? That's.too bad. I mean, she's just about the hottest girl at school. You're definitely crazy if you don't like her back."

"Yeah," broke in Justin, pretending to sound peeved, "Dan's heard all that already, but he wants to. "test his other options" and not be "tied down to some girl." Right Dan man?"

"Sounds right to me," Daniel forced a laugh. At least he wasn't giving Tyson the wrong idea anymore. He didn't want anyone to know that he was really considering Meg very seriously. He liked having other options, but having a "safe house" of sorts, was always a good bet.

"Well, Dan man," Tyson said, standing up as the doors swung open. "Here's my advice. Don't give her that flower. If you really don't want to make a commitment, then you don't go around giving her gifts. It'll give her the wrong idea."

Daniel looked down at the rose in his hand, and his heart sank a little. He did want to give it to her because he knew how happy it would make her, but he did not want to give anyone the wrong idea. Finally, he looked up at Tyson.

"Okay, I guess I'll just throw it away," he said dejectedly.

"Awesome, man. If you want, I can throw it out for you even," Tyson said, sounding a little overeager.

Daniel gave him a skeptical look. "Well, if you really want to."

Tyson swiped the rose out of his hand, and started walking.

"Great. Thanks. See ya later." He said, and then disappeared.

Justin looked at Daniel and raised an eyebrow. "Well, that weirded me out, what about you?" he asked him.

"I'm with you," replied Daniel. "Something's up with Tyson."

"He said he had a stomach ache," Justin pointed out.

"Yeah." Daniel said skeptically, "But I don't know how that would affect anything." "Yeah, me neither," Justin agreed. "Stomach aches do weird things to you, though. Last time my sister had one she picked up our T.V. and threw it out the window. But then, Al Gore happened to be giving a speech at the time, and she doesn't really like him all that much. That might have had an influence, but I don't really know."

And he was off. Justin was the biggest story-teller in school. Daniel had learned by now that it was better to just sort of tune out, smiling and nodding periodically so it looked like he was paying attention until the story was over.

What had been wrong with Tyson? He'd seemed so.eager to take the rose. And then Daniel had noticed how happy Tyson had looked when Daniel had said that he only liked her as a friend. What was going on? Did he.? No. Tyson didn't like girls like Meg. Sure, she was gorgeous, but she wasn't a cheerleader, and she was really smart. She didn't put up with guys like him. And he knew he didn't put up with girls like her. So there was definitely no way that was the answer. But what was it then? None of this made any sense.

"Dan? Are you listening?" Daniel was pulled out of his stupor by Justin's voice. He'd forgotten his usual nod.

"What? Oh yeah," he said distractedly. "Yeah, that T.V." he forced a laugh, "How 'bout that?"

Justin rolled his eyes. "Whatever man, I know you were dreaming about Meg. Just try to keep your head out of the clouds for one minute so I can finish."

Daniel started to protest, but Justin was already off again, speaking as loudly as he could so he wouldn't be able to hear Daniel.