A/N: I wrote this as my final short story for my creative composition class. The grade is still pending for another couple of weeks, of course, but I think I did okay. Anyways, this is a lot more wordy than what I usually write, but don't let the length deter you. I'm still a bit iffy on the ending, so any suggestions you may have would be greatly appreciated. Enjoy. :o)

"Semantics"

"That's it, Des. You've officially gone crazy. Completely, wholly, totally, one hundred-percent off-the-wall insane," I declared with finality as I reread the words scrawled across the pages of my well-worn notebook. A meticulously crafted, pessimistic poem about love gone completely wrong glared back at me from the page in blue glitter ink, and my emotional investment in the piece was, much to my dismay, unusually high. I liked to keep a healthy distance from what I wrote, but the dark, melancholic tone of my latest endeavor captured my state of mind almost perfectly. Why does it always have to fucking go back to Noah? I wondered with a scowl.

A critical frown settled into my features as I perused the words again, and glancing around the mostly empty coffee shop, I sighed. It was just me, a couple of employees preparing a venti double-mocha cappu-whatever with extra foam for a rather severe-looking woman in a business suit and a pair of Nikes, and that guy across the room that seemed to be around an awful lot lately. His eyes caught mine in that instant, and I quickly and embarrassedly turned away. Unused to receiving positive attention, or hardly any kind of attention, for that matter, from the opposite sex, our fleeting connection held a painful awkwardness for me, and it made me all the more aware of the fact that I'd actually voiced commentary aloud to an audience of absolutely no one. My cheeks began to burn as I added quietly in chastisement, "No, you're not just insane, but talking-to-yourself psychotic."

I self-consciously took another sip from the chai tea latte I had been nursing for the past half hour. I felt the lukewarm fluid travel down my throat and I licked my lips afterward, savoring the taste of cinnamon and whatever else. Liquid ginger snaps, indeed, I thought with contentment before realizing weirdo boy's eyes were still on me. I made a point of avoiding his stare by focusing back in on my writing, hoping that I appeared inconspicuous in ignoring him. My attentions could not be diverted away from him, however, and I started to wonder what his deal was.

I had been frequenting the Java Joint for about a year now and until recently, I'd never seen him before. Now it seemed that he was here almost as often as I was. While I usually preoccupied myself with homework and a bit of freelance writing, he tended to sit alone contemplatively, occasionally writing notes to himself on paper napkins. Every once in a while curiosity would manifest itself in my brain and I'd allow myself to speculate what strange and wondrous things he might be writing. Probably something angsty and gothic, I figured. He looked like the dark, brooding type and he was about my age. I stole a quick look at him across the room, and I saw his head was down and a pen was poised in his hand. His dark, shaggy brown hair hung in loose curls about his face, and though I couldn't see his eyes, I remembered they were big and dark. With nicely cut cheekbones and a tall, slim stature, he was good-looking in a lanky and pretty kind of way. Noting his exemplary style and grooming, I mulled over the possibility that he might be gay when he glanced up and met my gaze once again. Eyes like the black coffee he'd ordered (no cream, but lots of sugar) stared back at me unabashedly, and though slightly stunned by being caught in my faux pas, I still had the presence of mind to feel disconcerted and exposed. Sporting red cheeks and a bashful sort of discomfiture, I quickly finished my tea and left.

*          *          *

"How come every submission we get is either incredibly offensive or incredibly lame? I swear to God, if it's not unbearably crude and vulgar, it's broken-hearted 'I'm gonna die because he doesn't love me anymore' angst," I whined to the three girls gathered around the table.

Piles of poetry and prose were making the rounds in our seemingly fruitless quest for magazine-worthy pieces. Though being a staff member for the school literary magazine was fun and gave me a legitimate excuse to be a finicky fiction snob, slogging through the submissions could be a complete pain in the ass. Case in point was today's batch, which was particularly excruciating and badly written. The four of us – me, Mallie, Val, and Rylea – were sitting at my usual table at the Java Joint conducting an impromptu meeting. Our publication deadline was fast approaching, and our backlog of submissions was so large that more than a simple hour-long meeting after school was necessary to get us back on track. Instead, we decided to step around the sponsors and get together on our own, vowing to take as long as we needed in order to get everything critiqued. We could think of no place better to hang out at than the Java Joint, which was just fine with me. I had my chai latte by my side and an arsenal of complaints on misspelling and improper grammar at the ready, which, by the way, were getting an inordinate amount of use.

"Ugh, I know," Rylea, our editor-in-chief agreed. She added theatrically, "Today I smile that upside-down smile and succumb to the bagel of darkness that envelops my soul!" A cross between a groan and a wail topped off the parodied declaration of suffering.

The four of us laughed aloud at the inside joke and I glanced at the doodle of "the bagel of darkness" on the folder reserved for everything we euphemistically deemed less than stellar. Rylea was planning a spectacular bonfire for bagel of darkness pieces, and I was already commissioned to provide the marshmallows we were going to happily roast over it. Unfortunately, our pile of kindling was growing rapidly, and I was frustrated enough to give several mediocre stories negative scores on our one-to-five grading scale.

Admittedly, I'm a vicious nitpicker with literature, and even if Jane Austen, my idol, wrote a story filled to the brim with glaring spelling and punctuation errors, I would still lambaste it and bestow upon its pages a fiery vengeance. As far as I'm concerned, the people who consistently rape and abuse the English language belong with the blasphemers and traitors in the ninth circle of Hell, and anyone who dared to tell me that commas, proper paragraph formatting, and semicolons were useless had more to worry about than just their grade in expository comp. Because I made my stance on the mechanics of the language so well-known, I had the honorable distinction of being a Grammar Nazi, and I dutifully owned up to my title. I graded ruthlessly, as carelessness with linguistics indicated to me that the author didn't even care about his work enough to make it presentable. Lazy, reckless writers didn't deserve to be in the publication, especially considering that we had to go back and clean up their messes during layout formation. Amid my threats to pluck out my eyeballs if I had to suffer through anymore run-on sentences or capitalization errors, we finally made it through the drudgery and pain that is rating submissions. Val and Rylea headed home, but Mallie and I hung back to talk.

"So, what's up, Des? You've been a little… out of it lately," she commented with an offhand shrug. She frowned contemplatively, dissatisfied with this analysis but unable to describe her observation more suitably. Mallie was considerably more perceptive than I when it came to matters of behavioral change, and while I felt I was acting like the same ol' Desiree Benson as usual, I admitted to myself that something was off.

"Honestly? I really don't know what's wrong with me. I've just been… I dunno. I think it's just this whole thing with Noah, y'know? It's really starting to get to me. I- I don't know, I think I might love him or something, and it's just so damn frustrating knowing that I want what I can't have. I don't hate his girlfriend, and I definitely don't hate him, but sometimes, now, I really wish I did. He's just so effortlessly perfect, and it's killing me how sweet he is and how much fun we have when I know it doesn't mean anything. It's just Noah being Noah, and Noah's being friendly. But, fuck, man, I... I just need to get over this. I'm so tired of feeling like I'm being kicked when I'm down. I know I can't make him care about me, so what's the point in all of it anymore? I can barely bring myself to function correctly when he's around nowadays, and I've just been thinking that maybe it'll be better if he's… well, not around."

Mallie's frown deepened. "I don't know what to tell you, Des. I don't think avoiding Noah is really gonna be the solution to your problems, but if you think it'll help, then you might as well try. But love? That's deep. I mean, I knew you had a crush on him – I think everyone knows you have a crush on him – but to be in love with him... Sorry, man. That really sucks."

"Don't have to tell me twice," I agreed. I sighed, took a sip from my chai latte, and thought for a moment. "It's not just that, though. I've been thinking about the things I can realistically expect from life, in the future, and the more I consider having to settle down and get married one day, the dumber the whole thing sounds. How can you just be with one person your entire life? You don't really stay in love with them. The years go by and you're so used to them that there's no passion there anymore. I mean, my parents have been married for what?, nineteen years now, and they hardly even see each other anymore. They hardly even talk, and you don't get a sense of their ever having been in love. It's just stupid. I see them, and I see everything I don't want from life. To just be sitting there, stuck in the same place forever, with nothing to show for it except for a couple of whiny, dependent kids. No drama, or passion, or life anywhere. It's fucking stupid. So yeah, I don't even know if I really believe in love anymore. Maybe it's just better to find somebody you feel passionately about and just wait until the whole thing burns itself out before moving on, skipping ahead to the next person in line."

"I don't think it's that easy."

"Oh, I'm sure it's not, but hell if I don't give it the good ol' college try anyway. Maybe I'll stop feeling so blah once I find someone to take my mind off Noah."

"That's the spirit!" Mallie intoned with sarcastic enthusiasm, giving me a soft punch in the shoulder. I smiled wryly. Her eyes moved from mine to a spot beyond me, across the room, and she added, "I think I know where you can start."

"Hmm?"

"Scope the guy at the table near the counter. He's had his eye on you since we got here," she said.

I tried to discreetly turn around to get a look at said prospect. I saw a familiar form with a cup of coffee to his lips and I jerked back around, losing all sense of propriety and tactfulness. I felt a vague tingling in my quickly flushing cheeks, realizing it was the same guy I'd seen countless times before. The one with the creepy, intrusive stare.

"What's wrong?" Mallie asked with confusion.

"He's just here a lot is all," I replied with a shrug, skirting the issue.

"So? You should go for it! Besides, he's cuter than Noah," she said with a smirk. "Looks like Orlando Bloom, doesn't he?"

"Yeah, he does," I agreed, unable to fight the grin that spread across my lips at the mention of the actor.

"Look at that dopey smile! You're totally smitten," she teased with a laugh.

"Am not!" I protested indignantly.

"Are too!" she shot back, inciting a stubborn "am not/are too" war that lasted a couple of minutes before we dissolved into giggles.

*          *          *

After stopping off at home for a quick dinner of reheated chicken fried rice, I headed to the Java Joint once again. Once a month they hosted an open mic night, and I started going under the guise that I was trolling for some good magazine submissions. A lot of people from my school always managed to show up, and it was refreshing to hear work written by peers who actually gave half a wit about what they were writing. I came with my own poetry notebook every time, but I had yet to gather up the courage to actually stand up and read something.

As if warning me against some impending doom, every traffic light I approached turned red, and considering I was already eternally five minutes late for everything anyway, open mic night was well underway when I showed up. Much to my chagrin, my table had been usurped by a pair of scruffy guys and a guitar. In fact, it was a packed house tonight and it didn't seem like there were any seats to be had. I perused the room more attentively and discovered an empty chair at the table near the counter. Sitting opposite this chair, of course, was Orlando Bloom boy. My stomach began to do the twist and shout as I gingerly approached him. If Mallie were around, she'd probably tell me we were fated to be, but I wasn't so sure if I wanted to surrender to her brand of destiny. Seeing little choice in the matter, however, I dismissed my apprehensions (or tried to) and went in for the kill. He glanced from the pink-haired girl reading a short story at the mic to me, and I sat down, flashing him a friendly, albeit tentative, smile.

"Hi," I managed to squeak out. Fucking loser... I scolded myself.

"Hey," he answered in a voice as rich and deep as his coffee bean eyes. I could feel myself going red, and my anxiety became even more acute.

"I'm Des," I offered.

"Derek." We regarded each other silently for another moment, and his lips curved up into a lopsided smile. "So… come here often?"

I laughed at the joke, thankful for the icebreaker, but still slightly stressed over what I was supposed to say back. "Well, you know, I just can't keep myself away. It's the ambiance, the great society, the delectable coffees," I said with mock propriety and gave myself a self-deprecating shake of the head. "Or not... The society is nonexistent, the feng shui is off, and the coffee is only marginal, but y'know... It's kinda homey. I can get my work done."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," he agreed.

"I don't know how you can stand it, though, getting black coffee all the time."

He gave a little laugh. "So you noticed, huh?"

I looked away shyly. "Well, y'know, I hear things. Mostly just the voices in my head, but things," I added jokingly.

"It's all right, Miss Chai Tea Latte With Skim. I hear things, too. So you're a student?" he asked. Looking a bit embarrassed by revealing the extent of his personal observations, he added, "Your bright orange backpack is a little hard to miss."

"Yeah, I'm a senior this year. You?"

"Sophomore at Harper," he answered.

"That's cool. Are you transferring somewhere for next year?"

"Yeah, I'm going to ISU. I'm only still here as a matter of economy, of course."

"Oh, yeah, definitely. Some of my friends are sticking around and doing the same thing. It's a good idea, though, to knock out all the gen. ed. classes beforehand. My parents want me gone that badly, so I'm shipping off to Indiana next year."

"What are you planning to major in?"

"Bio. I'm a total science nerd."

"Really? Considering your, um, vociferous ranting earlier, I would've thought you'd be a hardcore English kid. I am, so I'd like to think I have a sense for these things, but yeah. More people need to stick up for the language."

"I know. I'm a critic on the lit magazine at school – which is what we were all working on earlier, by the way – and it amazes me how few people know how to express themselves clearly in writing. No regard for punctuation, spelling, tense, subject-verb agreement, basic formatting, even... I die every time. Er, rather, I threaten to, anyway. It all makes me wonder what the hell English teachers are doing if they're not actually teaching English. I mean, I know I'm more anal-retentive about this stuff than your average person, but my teachers used to pound us on all that; why don't the rest do the same? Listen to me, getting all up in arms... It's so silly."

"It's never silly to be passionate about something," he replied.

I smiled shyly, taking comfort in his simple words. There was an easygoingness in Derek's manner that made talking to him seem like the most natural thing in the world. Words spilled from my lips with candidness and little discretion, and though I knew I was doing more than my fair share of the talking, especially considering my generally quiet disposition, I couldn't keep myself from confiding in him. He seemed to be genuinely interested in my random and sometimes inane prattle, and I found him to be an intelligent and insightful fount of information. After several hours of brisk conversation, the proceedings began to wind down and we bid each other a cordial adieu.

*          *          *

Another Monday afternoon brought me back to the table I called my own, with my omnipresent chai tea latte in my right hand. Speaking of omnipresence, Derek for some strange reason was not there, though it would figure that the one time I might've wanted him around he had to go and be gone. In the period of about two weeks, I'd begun to look forward to his company. We didn't always talk, but when we did, I felt like the center of a universe with a pretty wicked gravitational pull. There was a gentle effervescence in his manner that made me feel like I was wrapped in a warm blanket when he spoke, and I let myself cherish these little moments because they reminded me that there was more out there than Noah and schoolwork. In fact, I was quickly learning to forget about him whenever Derek was around. Though he never really replaced Noah, he was at least displacing him a little bit. Enough with Noah, I pleaded to myself in vain. My mind retreated back there anyway, just like slipping into a smooth, worn groove.

It being a Monday, my mood was already pretty sunken, and the fact that I was deriving little comfort from my comfort drink of choice wasn't helping things at all. More and more it seemed as though I was getting lost in the shuffle between the days, living without actual life. I felt like the spaces in the sidewalk – a little bump to be trodden over, a gap where two ends cease to meet, blank space unfilled. I could make believe that all this recession was Noah's fault (all too easily), but knew that the true blame lay somewhere within. Pondering the tangled web of life and love and loneliness woven in a spider's sticky silk somewhere behind my eyelids, I began to feel the extent of my inactivity. I gathered up dust in my own head, it seemed, and the frown lines settled themselves in comfortably along the contours of my face. I tried to trace them back to something – anything – and came up with everything and nothing all at once. My entire existence was one big, blurred void, and while I tried to touch a memory tangibly, I came up empty-handed. All I had to show for eighteen years of lifetime were cobwebs, frown lines, and an unhealthy fondness for chai tea lattes.

Pulling me out of my self-indulgent pool of existential anguish was an outstretched hand holding an oatmeal raisin cookie. I blinked several times and looked up to see Derek, taking in his concern and his eyes like chocolate comfort food. I took the large, overpriced cookie hesitantly and took a bite. He offered a smile and in turn took a seat in the chair beside me.

"You looked like you could use a cookie," he explained simply, and I crumbled just like the baked good in my hand.

"I just— Oh my God," I managed to gasp before the tears flooded out everything but the lump in my throat. Like a tornado resulting of the cataclysmic collision between opposing winds, I cried out the product of too much sweet meeting too much sour.

"It's all right," he whispered softly as he put an arm around me. I cried into his shoulder and I felt like I stepped into my favorite pair of sandals – barefoot and almost free.

*          *          *

"You're grinning like you just kicked Kevin Porter in the nuts. What's up?" Mallie demanded.

I laughed, musing the damage I could cause by giving my mortal enemy a swift kick in his nether-regions. "Yeah, right, like Kevin actually has balls," I replied caustically.

Mallie snickered appreciatively before returning to the issue at hand. "Really, though, you've been cheesing like a goon the entire week now! It's really starting to worry the rest of us."

"You guys would be worried if I'm happy," I commented behind a chuckle, shaking my head.

The truth of the matter was that she'd caught me in a daydream somewhere in between math class and limbo, and as we headed to her locker before running off campus for lunch with a group of friends, she called me out on it. Over the days, Derek became the song I couldn't quite get out of my head. I stepped to his beat, some kicky staccato rhythm laced with old-school guitar that got me singing Queen and The Darkness and dancing in the streets. Okay, maybe not literally, but I definitely had the mind to. I started humming "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" under my breath.

Mallie regarded me curiously for a moment. "No way," she declared with firm disbelief.

"No way what?" I asked with bemusement.

"No way Noah just made his move."

"Yeah, he got down on his knees in the middle of calc, completely denounced his girlfriend, and professed his undying love for me while solving a third-degree Taylor polynomial on the whiteboard," I deadpanned before rolling my eyes. "Honestly, Mallie."

"Nuh-uh. It doesn't work that way. You can't be desperately head-over-heels in pseudo-love and 'bagel of darkness' angst one day and completely over him the next."

"The bagel can bite me," I retorted flippantly.

"Wouldn't you rather bite the bagel?"

She and I exchanged glances and burst into laughter simultaneously. More aimless chatter served as our background noise as we did our locker drop-off duties and made our way to the front entrance of the school. After flashing card to the scrutinizing hall monitors whose sole purpose in life was to keep people from escaping the prison-like institution they call our school (never mind that the people who actually wanted to escape finagled their way out anyway), we waited outside for the rest of our little posse to show up.

From my stance facing the sliding glass doors, I could see Noah and his girlfriend making their exit, hand-in-hand and heading out into the not-so-sunset together forever the end. The little jealousy that this sight stirred up in my heart was akin to a bartender mixing a lousy martini (usually he liked to shake things up the 007 way), and in spite of my ebbed envy, I tried to avert my gaze away from the sandy-haired boy wonder who possessed a wicked smile and an even more wicked sarcastic wit. However, as we made eye contact, I realized that Noah's sparkling gray-blue eyes entirely lacked Derek's rich, mocha depths. It was like getting Simple Plan instead of Green Day, the bagel of darkness instead of heartfelt grief, a Coke instead of a chai tea latte.

"Is that you smiling, Des?" he asked with amusement. I nodded, and he flashed his pearly whites again. "Didn't think I'd ever see that day again. I was starting to worry about you for a little while. Glad to see you're still alive in there."

He raised his free hand for a high-five and I slapped his palm with a grateful thanks. And just like that, polite concern that would've meant the stars, the moon, and the sun to me just a couple of weeks ago was received with some offhand gratitude, eclipsed by memories of stolen coffee kisses over a discussion on Ophelia's and Hamlet's respective lunacies.

*          *          *

"I love this song!" I exclaimed as I fiddled with the tuning knob on Derek's car radio.

I'd located a station playing an old Duran Duran song, and the sounds of "Hungry Like the Wolf" filled the car as I jacked up the volume. I sang along loudly (though I couldn't even carry a tune in a bucket), and Derek glanced over at me as though he thought I was both hopelessly silly and hopelessly charming. I was used to his quiet looks of amusement and though I knew I came off as a bit of a flake, I couldn't be bothered to care. He humored my melodrama without fostering it, and let me work myself up into hyperbolic tizzies over both the frivolous and the serious without judgment.

"Come on!" I urged him over the noise. He shook his head with a soft laugh. "This is Duran Duran, Derek! Resistance is futile!"

He finally broke down with a grin and joined me in the chorus, and I fell in love with him so completely among the cacophony that the realization might as well have kicked me straight into next Tuesday for all the power it packed. We were flying down the highway hurtling towards infinity (or, rather, Lake-Cook Road), and the closer he came to my home, the further away I wanted to be. A couple of hours spent watching a gory zombie movie (for despite all my female sensitivities, I'm very much a blood-and-guts-and-explosions kind of girl) and sipping on smoothies at Jamba Juice didn't equate to the days, weeks, and months I now felt was our due. Being as ill-versed as I was with this whole "love" thing, I wasn't about to let him slip away quite yet. I needed time to digest what I felt, to rationalize it, to know that I wasn't going to go to bed by myself dreaming of things that never were and going all in on a flash of a fluke.

"…A scent and a sound, I'm lost and I'm found, and I'm hungry like the wolf…"

The song gave way, the car forked along the path of the exit ramp, and before I could prepare myself for the empty house and sense of loss that lay ahead, we were parked behind my gold Chevy.

"Well, this is the end of the line, Des," he said with a sigh. He grasped my hand in his, raising my palm to his lips. He kissed the soft flesh and I let my hand drift to linger along the defined slope of his cheek.

"Don't go," I pleaded simply. "Nobody's home, and I just— I don't want to be alone just yet."

Sensing the hint of desperation in my voice, his lips curved into a slight frown. "I really shouldn't stay, Desiree. As much as I would like to, I shouldn't."

"What if I implored you? Or entreated? How about beseeched? What if I beseeched you to stay, Derek? Would you?"

He smiled wryly. "I suppose I would if you beseeched me, Roget."

"Then by all means, I beseech you."

*          *          *

He kissed me something fierce, and I felt as though I were swimming underwater, gliding seamlessly beneath the surface. I bobbed up for another gasp of oxygen before diving under once more, reaching somewhere deep and down in cooler, unexplored waters. It was hard to tell what I was looking for with my eyes closed so tight, but I drew nearer still. I could feel the harder ridges of his body leaning into me with another kiss, and I didn't mind his sudden dependence. Falling into oceans somewhere between lust and love, somewhere between my soul and his, it seemed like everything was mutual now, just as it should be.

"I love you," I managed to whisper between those fiery kisses.

"I don't love you damn near enough," was his puzzling reply.

I didn't have the presence of mind to question the meaning of his words as his lips moved to my neck. He sucked softly on the tender flesh, somewhere near my jugular if I remembered my biology classes correctly, and I could feel the blood rising to the surface of my skin. I gasped as I felt a sharp pain tearing into the tissue, but the throbbing ache quickly subsided into something almost impossibly pleasurable. He had his hand on my chest, over my heart, and the erratic beating relaxed into a rhythm sweet and soothing, like barefoot dancing steps on summer midnights. Slowly, slowly, slowly (Am I  even breathing anymore?) the world moved into a dead stop, and I fell into a sleep from which I had no intention of ever waking.

*          *          *

The characters PM 2:07 blinked at me antagonistically in digital blue, and it felt like hours had passed before I could recollect my last moments of consciousness again. Haziness became fuzziness, which in turn became something as close to clarity as I was bound to get, and I remembered Derek. I remembered being in his car and singing along to the radio, I remembered being in my driveway, I remembered apple cinnamon tea with heaping spoonfuls of sugar and Jane Eyre, and I remembered being on the couch... I can't believe I made out with him on the fucking couch, I thought with disdain, and then I remembered...

My hand flew to my neck, and the inflamed and torn flesh screamed in protest at my touch. It seared and stung like an open wound. Slowly, I stood up and walked across the room to face my reflection in the mirror. I pushed my hair over my shoulder and gasped at what I saw. Two neat, round punctures crusted over with dried blood, and bruised tissue. I felt the injury again in order to confirm its existence, and I nearly fell to pieces when I realized with horror that my eyes were not deceived.

A vampire's bite, I mused with terror. Derek isn't even human. He isn't... He isn't even alive. I fell in love with him and he isn't even fucking alive.

A bout of nausea hit me with all the subtlety of a sucker punch to the stomach, and I ran to the bathroom to relieve myself. Everything changed in that lightning instant, and everything I felt, everything I loved and desired and wished upon entire galaxies of stars for, became a betrayal. A betrayal of my trust, of my senses, of myself. Life in itself became one big, lousy cheat. Lore and reckless fantasy were made flesh (What the fuck do I even know about vampires outside of the Blade movies?), and I had the naivete to love a creature who probably had every intention of bleeding me into a lifeless oblivion. Derek was nothing but a big lie, and I was nothing but a farce of a teenage girl. I never hated myself until that day, and as the anger ebbed away into terror and despondency, I felt a loss more dreadful and acute than life itself. I wanted to fade away into nothing.

*          *          *

Time passed at a snail's pace, and the days melded into one horrible chunk of misery and fog. I had a new scarf at my throat each day, and my friends were beginning to grow horribly suspicious of my new accessories and strange behavior. I avoided the Java Joint as though it were Chernobyl, and I had no intention of ever returning again until I was forced there against my will by the head of the literary magazine committee. Rylea decided to repay our crew's efforts on completing the magazine layout (a grueling process) by buying us all coffee, and I would've fought the decision to the death if it weren't for the fact that I was trying to appear less queer to my friends.

I pretended not to notice Derek's penetrating gaze as I ordered my chai tea latte, and Mallie, noting my discomfort, took me aside while Rylea paid. "Does all this have something to do with Orlando Bloom boy?" she asked.

"He's just... not who I thought he was," I replied cryptically.

Mallie appeared dissatisfied with my answer, but pressed the issue no further as the four of us took our seats. The others talked and laughed while I remained detached. I felt like a blank void, staring into nothing and thinking of nothing and becoming nothing. Derek's presence, though as of late often felt but never fully realized, kept me even more sober and subdued than usual. Conversation briskly marched along, very quickly leaving me to languish in the dust due to my complete inattention, and one by one, everybody dispersed. Mallie was the last to go, reluctant and uncertain, telling me to get some fresh air over the weekend. This only drove the point home that they still had their lives to tend to while I remained stagnant. I was in static motion with nothing to move me and nothing to look forward to. What was there, really, when you couldn't even trust yourself to pick up the pieces and go anymore?

I finished my chai latte and got up to leave. I could feel Derek coming after me as I threw away my styrofoam cup so I picked up my pace as I headed for my car, hoping to deter his pursuit.

"Desiree—" he began.

I whirled around, interrupting him defensively. "No! Just don't! Don't touch me, don't talk to me, don't even look at me. Just stay away, all right? Just stay away, and maybe someday everything will be back to okay again."

"Des, I'm sorry. I just got carried away. I knew I shouldn't have—"

"You got 'carried away'? I didn't wake up for nearly two days! I could've died! I don't know who you think you are— Hell, I don't even know what you are! You just come into my life and turn everything upside-down, and act like it should all be okay when I find out you aren't even human! You aren't even a man! You aren't even anything to me except a lie. A living dead thing walking as a lie."

"Don't you see, Des? Life, death... It's all semantics. It's all just a play on words. What were you when I met you? Just a lifeless shell of a girl with holes in her heart the size of Texas. I watched you become something right before my eyes – an effervescent, rambling, bubbly girl with smiles for days and an unhealthy obsession with nineteenth century British literature and really bad movies where everything explodes for little to no reason. I love you to the ends of the earth for who you are, for the life you finally let come to light, and to see you extinguish that because of my own stupidity hurts more than anything. I may not have a heartbeat, and I may not have lifeblood flowing through these veins, but it doesn't mean I'm not here. It doesn't mean I can't be anyone, that I can't be alive.

"I know I made a mistake, Desiree. I know I hurt you, and I want you to know that it was never my intention. The hunger is indescribably powerful, and to see you there, so soft and fresh and enamored... It was too much. I knew it would be too much, and I played with fire anyway. Look, I understand your anger. I understand what it feels like to be deceived, and I understand what it feels like to live life in between the hours. I know that's not the life or the death meant for us. Just be with me. Five minutes, five days, five lifetimes... It doesn't matter. It's all relative anyway, right? It's all just words. It's all just life."