Chapter 38 – Becoming Inseparable

POV: Jesse

After Will drove off, I made my way out onto the main street and followed it through to the town centre, unable to help the idle wanderings of my jumbled and distracted mind which pondered over what it was Will might do while he was waiting for me to finish meeting Connor. As I entered the main pedestrian-only street that ran down what was considered the very heart of the town, I deliberately pulled my thoughts away from the dirty-blonde haired boy that was—inappropriately, I knew, considering with whom I was about to talk—occupying them. I had to concentrate.

I had spent the whole morning thinking up ways in which I could phrase my thoughts and express my feelings so to convey to Connor not only the situation, but the guilt and remorse that came with it; the regret of having used him.

The second half of the day had been spent thinking up ways in which I could ask Will to take me into town so that I could actually complete this task; it had become clear at lunch break, after speaking to Jon, that I had no other options of getting into town besides Will, and besides walking. I could have of course called Connor to pick me up, but considering what I had done to him, I thought that would be pushing it much too far.

In some ways, the idea of talking to Will was far more terrifying and prompted many more stomach-squirms than the idea of seeing Connor, but I supposed that was inevitable, given the violent reaction I now got—or, rather, let myself acknowledge—whenever I was around the former. The clenching, or somersaulting, or warm-pooling of my stomach; the prickling of heat spreading across my chest; the feel of a catch in my throat, but the relaxed expansion in the base of my spine.

When I was particularly stressed and I saw Will, my over-charge of emotions led me to recall quickly all the places he had ever touched me, and suddenly I felt the ghost of these touches all over my body, as if the memories were embracing me all over again. Those times were almost over-whelming, and made me wonder how the hell I was supposed to trigger the transition for us both from constantly-bickering school-mates to, hopefully, a much-more-comfortable couple. The thought of it made me dizzy. And it was for that reason, because of all that fear, and want, and confusion, that I had eventually resolved on asking him to be friends.

The idea had struck me during Lit, and as soon as it had, it made sense; I didn't know much more about him than I knew about any of the other people I had always avoided. And actually, excluding knowledge of my mannerisms, moods, and come-back arsenal, he didn't know much of me, not factually speaking. Being friends not only gave us the chance to find out the more randomly useless facts like our fifth grade teacher and favourite flavour of lollypop, but it allowed us to get comfortable knowing, as we both did, how one another felt; it would also, I hoped, soothe the ridiculously all-consuming reaction my body had to his presence.

It wasn't until the fountain I was heading for with Connor stood in front of it came into view that I realised my mind had gone off on the exact tangent I had tried to prevent it, and I had lost 5 crucial minutes of speech-preparing time I had been planning to use. The temptation to duck into a store just for a few minutes to collect myself and switch away from Will mode in make-up-with-Connor mode was almost overpowering but was extinguished by the catch of Connor's eyes on my own, telling me he had seen me. I paused for a split second, readjusting the way the strap of my bag laid on my shoulder and feeling a bit stupid for turning up in my school uniform instead of changing.

After my right foot had halted for a beat I swung it forward into another step, and followed it by a left one until I was eventually stood in front of him. I flushed with shame inside the second I was still before him.

"Hey," I offered quietly, a bit awkward.

Demonstrating the maturity the extra year he had on me provided, he smiled warmly, no discomfited shuffle interrupting the easy tone of his voice. "Hey." There was a small break as he studied my face, making me uncomfortable, not from being under scrutiny from him, but more so from worrying what he might find in my expression or my eyes; I'd learnt now I couldn't control those.

"You've had a tough time lately," he assessed in a gentle tone that made me ache, realizing how compassionate he could still be after what I had done, while I was surely nothing much more than selfish.

"Kinda, yeah," was the answer I gave, and I tried to minimise the vulnerability it cast onto me by adding a half-hearted chuckle and giving a slight shrug. The softening of his face in response told me perhaps my additions had had the opposite effect to that I had hoped for. "Thanks for meeting me; I would've understood if you didn't." I thanked him earnestly, mainly for something to say, but partly because it needed to be said at some point, and now seemed as good a time as any considering the blankness that was slowly sweeping across my previously buzzing mind.

"It's okay. Do you want to go get a coffee or something? We can sit and talk there."

Realising I had been so preoccupied with what it was that was going to be said that I hadn't considered where it was that might take place, I agreed, figuring it was a bit too cool outside to walk over to the small grange that could be found just a little way off the town centre. "Yeah, that's a good idea." The coffee shop we ended up in was only a couple stores down on the street, so it wasn't too uncomfortable to make our ways over to it in silence. Connor let me enter before him, but didn't open the door for me like Will had done on our way out of the school not too long before; I forced myself not to dwell on it.

Inside, we ordered together from the counter, a purchase of a medium hot chocolate for me—I wasn't a huge coffee drinker, and didn't much feel like one now, despite needing some energy and zeal desperately—and a large black House blend for Connor was made, and after paying we moved over to a small two-seater table near the front of the shop, to the left. While Connor took of his jacket and added sugar to his mug, I stared out of the window, watching a few people wander by outside just so I had a couple seconds to choose what it was I should start with. Should I begin at the start, explaining Will, how Connor himself played into that, and what it meant? Should I ask how much Bridget had told him, or if he had figured much out himself? These ideas flew quickly from my mind when Connor leant forward so his arms were on the table and opened his mouth to speak, making me panic about the choice I was trying to make. I forced out the first thing that came to mind and then winced at the unplanned, messiness of it.

"I'm sorry I used you."

Connor's mouth, which had prior to my comment been open, slowly dropped shut, and after a moment of staring at me in an unnervingly probing way, he opened his lips to speak, and this time followed through without an interruption. "It's…not that bad." He looked as if he wanted to say more, so I silenced myself, but he took his time by first blowing at the surface of his mocha coffee and taking a tentative sip. I tried to gauge his expression in the way people seem to do so easily to me, but could only conclude he was thinking; I realised after he spoke that what he had been contemplating had been how to word his sentence. "A person can't be used if they're willing. When you use someone…it involves exploitation, in some way or another."

As much as I wanted to believe this, it couldn't clear me of any guilt. I wrapped my hands around my mug, only then realising they'd been a little cold before, and tried to explain things. "Connor, that doesn't change that…" No, that wasn't quite how I wanted to word things; I tried again, clearing my throat. "Even if you were willing, the exploitation was still there. I exploited your willingness in order to make another guy jealous—" I broke off when I registered the surprise showing on Connor's face. I immediately backtracked, "No, that's not what I meant; I wasn't trying to make Will jealous. Okay, Will is…have I ever explained to you who Will is?"

He shook his head at me, and took a calm sip of his coffee. I watched, fascinated for a moment by the composure of his demeanour, almost envious of it; it had been so long since I'd felt that pulled together, truly. I couldn't think when the last time might have been. I snapped out of it. "Okay, he's…pretty crucial to this whole…thing." I cleared my throat again, an irritation blocking up the back of it uncomfortably; it was probably just my unwillingness to be in this situation. It was annoying and distracting nonetheless.

"Okay," I repeated, squeezing my hot chocolate a little. I took a deep breath, and then I launched into it. "Will is this guy at school. He's been…pursuing me, I guess you could say, since the beginning of October, really. I always told him I wasn't interested, and…a few other not so pleasant things." The corner of Connor's lips turned up at this, and I was sure he was imagining some of the things I could have said. I carried on. "At the time, he was just annoying to me, and I told him over and over that there wasn't anything between us, but…he's quite persistent. It would have been a bit scary, him always coming after me, if I didn't feel something in return…"

God, it felt odd admitting that. Trying to explain it. I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to tell the story as it had played out, with me only disclosing at the end that I liked Will, just as it had actually happened, or whether I was supposed to talk about it all in retrospect. Neither, I thought, would feel comfortable though, so long as the person I was telling it to was Connor, so long as I had to include the part I made him play in it.

I just let it flow in whatever way felt slightly less difficult.

"I made up some stupid lie about having a boyfriend to make him leave me alone, basically, but obviously, I didn't have one, and he turned up at the club on the night we...we kissed, and expected me to be wrapped up in some guy. He was there watching us when I told you to kiss me; I wasn't trying to make him jealous, but I was trying to make him leave me alone. But that's not the point anyway, is it? It doesn't matter why I asked you to do what you did; well, what we did. The point is, I used you though, because my intentions weren't the ones that must've coincided with your's when we kissed, and that's why I know I used you, whether you were willing or not. I'm just…God, Connor, I'm just so sorry. I know I'm a really stupid, stupid girl, I do; I've definitely figured that out. And I know what I did was so wrong; I've felt awful about it, but how I feel doesn't matter 'cause it's about you, and you didn't deserve that. It's just—I'm sorry, I really am, if I had just—"

"Jesse!" Connor interrupted me, his hand shooting out to take a hold of one of mine, his voice sounding urgent; it wasn't until I had closed my babbling mouth that I realised his tone also included humour. I looked over his face and found him smiling at me, his eyes dancing with laughter. I stared at him, perplexed.

"Jesse, it's alright. I get that you're sorry, and it's fine. It is; it's fine."

My lips parted in my confusion, and I stuttered a bit, embarrassingly, in my need to comprehend exactly what it was he was saying, "W-what? Like, you forgive me?"

He laughed. "Like, I forgive you, yeah."

"But!" Seriously? I hadn't even explained how deep in denial I had been, to explain—though not warrant—my behaviour. "But I toyed with your feelings, like I was more important. What I did was horrible. Aren't you mad at me?" I'm sure, if it were me in his shoes, I'd be furious…

I thought for a second about that, about how it had been if Will had kissed me just to get some other girl to leave him alone.

Maybe furious wouldn't have been the right way to describe it. I'd have probably been crushed.

"I'm not mad," Connor assured me, squeezing my hand before he let it go and wrapped it back around his own mug. "Jesse, I'd never thought about being more than friends with you before that night, so it's not like you crushed some unrequited fantasies of love. So, yeah, ok, I'd probably thought about you as more a few times before, but never seriously. When you kissed me, I just thought that maybe you were into me, and I hadn't realised, and I thought maybe there was something to that. You must know how you are Jess, so you'll understand wh—you don't know how you are?" he asked me, upon seeing my confused face. What did that mean, 'you must know how you are?' Was I supposed to understand that?


"Well, you know, you're funny, you're smart, you're a laugh to be around. It doesn't hurt you're gorgeous." Although I appreciated that he was saying those things, it didn't affect me like maybe it would have had Will said them. I once again shifted my mind back onto the topic at hand, berating myself silently for letting myself wander so often to thoughts of Will. "I thought if you liked me, and you're a pretty amazing girl in general, then what did it hurt for us to try things out? When I thought about it more, I'll admit I liked the idea some, it's way I asked you out. But the interest you showed was only short lived, and since I'd only thought about it myself for only a little while, it wasn't that hard to deal with. Maybe you should have explained to me the reasons for wanting to kiss rather than letting me blindly go into it, but considering everything you've said, I don't blame you for not, and I do forgive you for the mess we managed to create between ourselves because of it. I'm just hoping it won't ruin our friendship."

A little amazed and a little stunned by all of that, I only spluttered incredulously before hurriedly declaring, "Of course it won't, I was just hoping you wouldn't hate me forever for all this. God, this is…a relief." And I managed to laugh, albeit a bit shakily through all the relief relaxing my stressed body.

After Connor joining me in an appreciative chuckle, and assuring me once more than things were fine then, both of our point's of view considered, we both took a couple of gulps from our mugs and then let ourselves relax into analyse of my situation. Connor asked me more about how I felt about the whole thing, and probed me particularly in relation to Will, catching me when I had my mouth to my mug when he asked me "So how much do you like him then? Do you love him?"

The L word being a bit dramatic, and rather rushed, I almost choked on my cocoa, which Connor seemed to find quite amusing. After thumping my own chest and taking a breath, I coughed in a controlled manner to clear my throat once more and set my cup down, "Love? No, God. No, love is…" Love was what? I drew a blank for a second, before I flashed upon a picture of my parents. The smile I gave was small, but contemplative, "Love is a lot stronger and long-lasting than some lust-filled high school crush." For no particular reason, I laughed quietly at this fault.

"Is that all it is between you then, a lust-filled crush?"

Wanting to snort, not quite knowing at what, I opened my mouth, as I did when I particularly wanted to encourage the explosion of the disparaging sound. The noise didn't come though, and after a second I realised it was because I didn't genuinely want to dismiss this talk with it. Was what I had for Will just some crush? Were all my bodily reactions to him just results of teenage hormones gone mad? My expression eased as I thought over this, and I dipped my face so I could let my eyes fall into the chocolate of my mug.

No. No, I knew it wasn't just a crush. And I knew it wasn't just lust. But it wasn't love, and the distinction of what it was presently lacking from my awareness, I decided I didn't want something as important as understanding the depths of my feelings for Will to be discovered in a casual chat with Connor. Or with Bridget, I thought to myself.

The thought of discovering the boundaries of my affection in the presence of anyone else but myself or Will made me feel both uncomfortable and fiercely private. And because of that, I looked back up to Connor with a fake snort like I had instinctively meant to give and a casual shrug, "Who knows."

Connor fixed me with a probing, knowing look, under which I almost let my shoulders tense and my mouth swallow, but he eventually chuckled and nodded, sipping his coffee before he spoke. "Who indeed."

The way his eyes shined told me we both knew who, it just wasn't going to be him.

We spoke together for another half hour, swirling the dregs of our drinks in the bottoms of our mugs round while we eased into more light-hearted and vague topics, touching on school and college, our relatively close plans, and a couple of topics that were so unimportant I couldn't remember what they had been once we left the shop. When we did so, he let me exit in the same way as before, not opening the door, just accepting it when I held it back for him, and, inexplicably, that made me smile. We hugged as we said goodbye, a feeling of gladness to be back on easy terms with him settling over me, and then he was gone, walking off back down the high street away from me after I had declined his offer of a ride back to school. I already had one, I remembered all too readily. And, I saw—trying but failing to keep the smile off my face—he was walking towards me out of the opposite store, a couple small bags in his hands that told me he'd managed to fill his time well enough.

"Well, hello," I greeted him when he got closer, my mood after sorting things out with Connor in such a pleasant state that I was feeling quite happy and playful.

Will grinned at my smile and eager greeting, and stopped when he reached me, his free hand tucked comfortably into his pants pocket. "Hello to you, too. How were things?" He nodded at the coffee shop Connor and I had sat in, and I realised he had probably been able to see us sitting at one of the front tables while he went about his own business in the street. Either that, I figured, or he had seen us exit it. Didn't exactly matter which, I supposed.

"Actually, they're ok," I informed him, and I nodded, allowing my face to form a quietly content expression.

"I'm glad to hear it," he replied, and the genuine smile he gave me let me know he meant it. My stomach warmed deliciously at this display of his goodness. Half of me was disgusted by how Hallmark he seemed to make me, but the other half just enjoyed it. I willed the second half to win.

"I want to figure out exactly how much we feel for each other," I told him bluntly quite suddenly, and instead of looking surprised by my out of place comment, he only let his brows furrow thoughtfully while his lips turned up and he examined my own expression, apparently curious but amused. I decided I felt exactly the same way.

"Me too," he agreed in a voice that was struggling to contain the laughter I tickling at my own throat.

"Good." I nodded sharply, giving my face the look of being smug over something, and then finally laughing quietly as I gave into the insanity of the sudden exclamation I hadn't even meant to make when I had opened my mouth and his easy response to it. Such a declaration should have made us so awkward together, I was sure, what with it reminding us in such an obvious way of all the spoken and unspoken emotions that were forever between us now. Instead, though, my exclamation seemed to be so bold—and so positive in terms of developing our relationship, whatever it may be, too—that it dispelled all uneasiness there could have been between us, and I shoved at Will's chest, unprovoked, but at complete ease, while I chuckled again.

"Oh, come on, come buy me a muffin; I'm hungry," I ordered him with the kind of candour I usually reserved only for my best friends.

His eyes sparkled at me the second he realised that, in Jesse terms, this was my way of telling him I wasn't bitter about his wealth and, to be honest, I never really had been. That unspoken truth passed between us through our eyes alone, and I had to grin the connected feel it gave me.

He grinned eagerly back at me, and at my demand, then simply nodded, giving an easy lift of his shoulders that counted as some sort of slight shrug, and walked at my side, not too close, not too far, to the little bakery down the street. I felt inexplicably and wonderfully relaxed with him for the rest of the day.

The ease I had felt that day seemed to dissipate at some point between the goodbye he wished me that night and the hello I got from him at breakfast the next morning. At first I became worried about this renewed awkwardness, a panic that instantly, and predictably, made me even more self-conscious in my conduction of any exchange with Will, but after being joined by Jon, who chuckled and joked I looked like my ass was sat on a particularly large and phallic shaped object, all usual Jess-ness came rushing back.

"Well, some of us don't enjoy that quite as much as you do," I rejoined with a sweet smile, and Jon spluttered on his orange juice in an incredibly satisfying gurgle-sounding manner. Basking in the small afterglow I always got from a good retort, I smiled at Will brightly, at which point I began to feel all my discomfort ebb away, because there I was being the blunt sarcastic girl I always was, and there he was grinning at it.

It seemed more than a bit bizarre at first, having Will back around me when I was with the rest of the gang, but slowly and surely I sank into it. Over that weekend, I only saw him when he ate with us at mealtimes, which he did for all six, although I didn't see him at Saturday lunch because I was at work, where, I had to admit, I did miss him. On Monday morning, he joined us for breakfast once more, and then without even realising it had happened until it had, we had walked together to Sociology and parted amiably to sit at our still separate desks; neither Will nor I thought there was any chance Dragon Thighs would let him switch a second time, let alone back to his original seat.

Lunch presented me with Will's company again, which I was learning to enjoy it without unease or censoring quickly now, and before long the days melted into a blur of just being his friend. We usually sat opposite one another when we ate, where we could easily see one another's faces, but occasionally we ended up side by side, and when this was the case the accidental brush of knees or clashing of elbows from time to time made me grin inside.

We always walked to Sociology together, and after a week we went together to the library after school to grab some books for homework. When we got into an impromptu insult match the likes of which I usually only had with Rob, Jon, or Bridget, we ended up slouching over one of the tables in the corner muttering jibes to one another into our homework while we tried to conquer our amusement.

My worry at being as sarcastic, biting, and generally unpleasant to Will as I was to the others faded away along with any apprehensions I had of spending time together too often. Insult Trading in the library turned into study sessions alone in his dorm room, where I generally spread out over his bed and he sat himself at his desk, between which places we tended to fire one another with random questions, so as to get to know each another better as I had requested that same day I had asked for us to become friends.

The rest of the group seemed to find it a little hard to get used to when it all started, often sharing secretive smiles amongst one another as if Will and I couldn't see, and they definitely appeared baffled when the day came that Will and I had agreed to go clubbing without even checking to see if the others wanted to come with us, as if, gasp, it didn't bother us that we might end up going as just a pair. But, just like Will and I, they got used to it soon enough too, figuring, just like we did, I guess, that it had been a long time coming.

He took me into town to get bits and pieces I couldn't necessarily afford; I took him into work with me so he could get DVD's to watch on the weekend, and then persuaded him to stay and keep me company to prevent me from dying of boredom; a couple times we went to the cinema, a few times we sat around on the field commenting that it was probably getting a bit too breezy for such a thing but neither of us making a move to leave anyway, often we went along to Monster's Ball or Widowed, but most the time we just kicked around in his dorm room, a brilliant place to be alone because of the fact that he had no roommate.

He let me use his laptop—I was useless, and frequently thought I'd broken it, but thankfully never did; not seriously, anyway,—I let him mock whatever book or movie I was into at that point in time—he claimed they were all fluff; about my movies, he was right, but no one disses my books—and we both let each other learn whatever we wanted about one another.

We talked about anything and everything under the sun, at any time. I asked him about his parents (a complicated relationship), his future plans (not sure, but not the family business), about any ex's he had (one, junior year, Catherine; long-distance;) and he asked me about my family (I loved them,) my own future plans (college, maybe teaching, I had begun to think lately,) and the elusive Cory (I had liked him, but not enough to put up with the grief I got from people about him.)

All the time and laughter spent together aside, there seemed something more to our transformation than just comfortableness that made me smile, and it could be found out by watching us for just the shortest periods of time. We conversed like friends, as teasing as I was with any others I acted with him, and we spent time like friends, doing the somewhat boring, idle things teenaged friends did, but there were little flutters and small brushes of encounters that alluded to so much more. I didn't think we could go ten minutes without doing something couple-like, and when I thought about restraining from it, the self-control that was needed seemed tremendous.

When I got up from a seat in the refectory, instead of outright holding my chair out for me, which I would have considered a bit much, Will simply placed his hand in the base of my spine, the brush of his fingers something soft and sweet. When we were slumped over our books in the library, he brushed my hair out of my eyes, tucking it behind my ear. In his dorm room, he watched me intensely as I spread myself down over his bed, thinking, I'm sure, similar things to what I was thinking. In the cinema, when I shifted around in my seat, as I had a habit of doing, he let his leg lean to the side just enough so our knees touched, and didn't bother to move it away. A day without just one of his warm touches would feel alien now that we were used to the odd dynamic of our friendship, but that made me wonder if he felt the same about the attentions I paid him.

When he teased me, but in a way that didn't deserve a truly biting retort, I pushed his chest lightly, or dug a finger into his waist. If I was flirting with him, which sometimes I did, I didn't stop myself from touching his arm, but instead sometimes even let it really linger. When I was feeling playful, I flicked his ear; when I was relaxed and content, like I was when it was late at night and we were curled up on his bedroom floor watching a DVD, I rested my head on his shoulder. I pressed the toe of my foot into the outside of his ankle whenever we sat at a table, tickled the bottoms of his feet if we were both half asleep studying, and didn't stop my lips from parting or my head tilting to the side appreciatively if he was shirtless.

We were at a weird place, where we were half friends, half boyfriend-and-girlfriend. We laughed, teased, and joked around in the same way I did with all my other friends, but at the same time we were overly-aware of one another and unavoidably inseparable in ways I'd never been with Bridget, or Rob, or Jon. He touched me in soft places and at times where and when it wasn't necessary for a friend to touch another friend, but our relationship, as secure and full as it did feel, still lacked all the explicit intimacy a boyfriend and girlfriend really shared.

He might regularly brush hair out of my eyes, but his fingers never strayed to my lips or the nape of my neck. I sometimes pushed needlessly and playfully at his chest, enjoying the feel of muscle through his shirt, but I never dipped the pad of my finger onto his stomach as if I knew what it was like to have the contours of it pressed against me.

There was a happy, content, We're-Doing-Well feel to the way we interacted with each other, but there was a Sometimes-I-Want-So-Much-More yearning to the way we looked at each other when we were together. We both saw it, and we both felt it, but with only a few weeks of friendship under our belt, neither of us had moved to do anything else. And, for now, I guessed I was happy with that.

I was lying on Will's bed, my books thrown and scattered down onto the floor rather than gathered around me, all pretence of studying completely vanished, and it was late Thursday night. We had a CD on in the background, one of mine that Jon had compiled for me of random tracks he liked and was determined to make me enjoy too, and Will was sat at his desk, still working, even though I had given up. Meh, I'd done all the homework that was due tomorrow, and with the weekend ahead to finish anything else I had left, I didn't feel like exerting myself for no reason.

I tucked my hands behind my head while I relaxed, sometimes trying to make heads or tails of whatever song was playing but something looking between the ceiling and Will's profile as I declared arbitrary facts about myself, both of us so exhausted in what questions we could ever think up to ask each other that we just took it upon ourselves to reveal things when we got bored or simply felt like letting something out.

"I think cows are my favourite animal," I told him, tilting my head at the ceiling and playing idly with my hair, twirling it round my finger almost unconsciously.

"You think?" Will echoed, and although I didn't make a sidelong glance at him to check for his expression, I knew it was the one he had that was half curious—that particular emotion tended to be conveyed around his eyebrows—and half amused—that emotion was found in his mouth.

"Well, yeah. I mean, other than the fact that they can get as fat as they want and never give it a second thought—" Will snorted at the appropriate time here, filling me in on the fact that he knew perfectly well that I wasn't one of those girls who counted calories and worried about the size of their fat asses. "—there's also the fact that they can cud. That means, I could eat chocolate, then eat the same piece again." My voice hinted at amazement, and the belief that I thought this terribly cool. I looked over at him when he replied.

"You'd effectively have to puke it back up again in order to re-eat it though, Jess." Oh, he just had to be so smart. I made a light indignant noise as if he had no business being logical when I was talking crap.

"Whatever, I'd be a cow, like I'd care."

"In which case, I doubt you'd have a penchant for chocolate." He grinned at me from his spinning chair that he was, boringly, not even spinning on. When he wasn't looking, I liked to take a few turns on it without him knowing. Sometimes when I couldn't be fucked to hide my childish enjoyment, I did it even when he was paying attention.

"You know what? Screw you and the horse you rode in on."

Smiling, Will just rolled his eyes at me and returned to his books. I didn't think he was going to reply to that until he muttered, just loud enough for me to hear it, "I'd much rather do you."

If it weren't for the fact that we occasionally liked to tease one another with such hit and miss blatantly sexual comments, I would have been shocked to hear such a thing from Mr. Patrick III. As it was though, I had been the one to start the little trend, so I only snorted and threw a pillow at him; "Sweetheart, I know you would, but I really don't think you could afford it."

Will laughed when the cushion hit his chair, which he was sitting on at such an angle that he was facing the wall opposite, allowing him to look easily between me and his homework; it was the position he always took up when we did work together in his room. I didn't think I'd ever told him so, but I thought it was sweet he went to such trouble to preserve open body language for me.

"I'm sure I could," he chuckled, and I laughed too, because I figured if I ever had to sell myself for money, if anyone could afford it it would definitely be the guy sitting across from me. I ended my quiet chuckles by shrugging and coughing coolly, stretching enjoyably for a moment before tucking my hands behind my head.

"How much would you pay me to sleep with you?" I asked cheekily, and I knew for sure my eyes sparkled at him mischievously when he looked over, an eyebrow raised at my taking our little flirtatious teases a phase further. Stepping up to the plate in a way I had become quite proud of him for doing, he leant back in his chair, apparently thinking, before looking over at me with the sexiest grin I'd ever seen on any guy. My curiosity at his response peaked.

"Depends, would you be on top?"

My mouth opened in a highly entertained almost-shocked style before I quickly dropped it back into place, lowering my lashes so I looked at him intensely through them, and purring, "I'd ride you 'til your legs went numb."

Unable to beat my bravado, Will only laughed and nodded, throwing in the towel. "Yeah…I'm sure you would." He kept my eyes for a little longer than he should have done had we only been friends, but, then again, considering our topic of conversation, there were probably a couple more things friends shouldn't have been doing that we were. He gave a low soft chuckle again before he returned his attention to his books, and when he did I let out a silent breath I had been holding in an attempt to still my bubbling stomach.

We dissolved into companion silence after that, him thinking over his homework—or so it seemed—and me looking once more from the ceiling, to him, from the ceiling, to him, trying to think of something else random to say. One thing played on my mind though, but there was something holding me back from saying it. Vulnerability? Embarrassment? Maybe neither of those things. It was on the tip of the tongue anyway though; would I say it?

Oh screw it, I decided, and I let it out.

"I'm a virgin," I told him frankly, my eyes still locked on the ceiling.

I looked over at him to see what his reaction was. He turned his face in my direction and raised one eyebrow at me for a moment, looking serious and a bit curious, before his face cracked into that never-genuinely-annoying smile it always did and my stomach jumped. "I know," he answered. And that was all he said, as if I hadn't just admitted something a lot of 17-year-olds worldwide didn't regularly admit.

Raising my own eyebrow back at him, grinning at his response, I echoed him, "Oh, you know?"

He nodded again, his smile taking on the distinctive twist of the amused grin I myself sported, and he placed his pencil into the part in his book, swinging round on his turning chair so he was facing me straight on finally. He let his elbows rest on the armrests, and steepled his hands together in midair over his lap, letting his fingers then slide down one another until they were locked and intertwined.

Spurred on by his playfully know-it-all air, I felt the teasing side of my personality rise again to the occasion, my mind instantly beginning to buzz with any and all things I could say that might stun him, or at least make him say 'I didn't know that.'

"I think about you when I brush my teeth," I admitted coolly, my face turned towards him so I was looking at him over the crook of my arm, which was twisted back so my hand still supported my head. I suppressed a full grin and settled for instead allowing just the corners of my mouth to turn up in only the slightest manner, betraying my intent to win what could barely be called a 'battle.'

He grinned again, and only repeated, "Oh, I know."

My eyebrow twitched for a second time, and I kept my smile small and competitive. "I think about you naked," I confessed with such airiness that even I was a little surprised inside, and I knew what other things I also thought in conjunction with what I had just revealed.

His grin spread so wide I almost didn't notice the hilarity sparkling in his eyes, but he still only nonchalantly said, "I know." The sexual innuendos weren't working. Grrr.

Then again, of course they wouldn't work; we both knew we were attracted to each other, it wasn't a great shock. I'd seen him watch me plenty of times for longer than a friend would when I was stretching, or when I wasn't quite appropriately dressed, just as I had been a few days before when I had walked him up to his room after we had all been out to Widowed and I had ended up sleeping in just his shirt on his bed while he took the floor. That's how we were. We played with the boundaries of our relationship, we toyed with the restraints of 'friends' and flirted with the inclusions of what we would be if we were 'more.' He knew I wanted him, of course he did; if he wasn't surprised by my staring at him uncandidly when he walked out of the bathroom in just a towel then he wouldn't be surprised by hearing me admit it.

No, if I wanted to shock him, maybe playing with our attraction wasn't going to get me anywhere. I had to change tactics. Maybe being blunt about my emotions would be the only way to do it.

But, once the perfect declaration struck me, suddenly I didn't want to say it just to see if he'd react. I wanted to say it for the same reason I had told him I was a virgin; because I wanted him to know.

Losing my playful grin, and pulling myself up on the bed so that I was sitting, I slipped one hand around my knee and resisted the urge to tilt my head at him, my voice as pulled together as I found I truly felt. "I'm not in love with you," I told him honestly.

I watched every inch of his face closely for his response, not for the 'winning,' for the true reaction to what he felt about knowing this. The entertained smile he had been sporting slipped from his face, but his lips didn't sink down into a disappointed or upset frown, instead just stilling neutrally in their natural set, his eyes taking on all the expression his mouth could have conveyed, and shining at me knowingly.

"I know," he finally confirmed, his voice sounding calm too.

I nodded at him, drawn into the depths of his eyes, of what he might have been trying to say to me, and shifted on the bed, sitting forward a little more, my arms folded across my knees.

"But I think I will be," I admitted, and I wasn't surprised to find that the openness and vulnerability of my words deduced my voice to a soft whisper.

I stared at him, my heart slowing in my chest rather than speeding up, and watched for his reaction, willing him, I realised desperately, to think he might someday love me too. I kept myself still on the bed, just watching him, observing the way his eyes did nothing but meet mine, noting the way his lips didn't even twitch, not up, and not down, not once. My heart slowed down a beat again, my stomach chilling almost too fast for me to have been able to register the first degree drop, and then suddenly his eyes lit up and something burst in my abdomen in a way I knew his must have done as well.

He pushed his hands down on his armrests to propel himself out of the chair, but I got up from the bed before he could get to his feet, and he dropped back down into his seat while I made my way towards him.

I didn't remember ever taking the steps I took between the bed and his desk but I was unmistakably stood before him a moment later, and I leant down towards him slower than I dared to, not sure if time was actually decelerating or if I was just forcing myself not to rush this. I closed one hand over the end of his armrest and squeezed it gently, my other hand slipping down the side of his face and halting when my palm cupped his cheek. I dropped my head downwards gradually, my hair swinging forward to create a curtain around our faces that must have tickled his ears, and then I closed my lips over his and I kissed him for the first time.

It was like nothing we had ever shared before. His lips still tasted the same, his hands still felt the same way on my waist, and my stomach still flopped and squished and squelched around in all the same ways it had done any other time we had kissed; but it had never felt like this, because I'd never been the one to initiate it before, because I'd never known how I felt about him, truthfully, whenever I had kissed him before.

Our lips were slow and tentative in a manner I could have never predicted after such a long build up to the Real Kiss we both wanted, and needed, but it was breathtaking in a way that I don't think even the Old Me could have sneered at. When his hands clutched tenderly at my waist my knees went weak and dipped forward just enough to rest against his own, which were bent from where he sat.

It was the need to talk rather than the desire to breathe that pulled me away from him, but when I did I found my breathing a little ragged anyway, and could barely think straight for a second, let alone form a coherent sentence. After I paused, gulping down just one large breath to satisfy my lungs, I looked over his face, lingering on his lips, before finding his eyes and keeping them. Although I understood the shine in them must mean he was glad we'd finally gotten there, I could still see a small question lurking in them, and saying what I only guessed might be the answer, I began to pour myself out to him, pouring myself onto him at the same time, climbing onto the seat with him while I spoke.

"Look, I know exactly what I was like before, Will, I do; you showed me that. I know I was a bitch, and that I didn't give people a chance, but that's just because I'm more vulnerable than I wanted to be, and I can't stand getting hurt, it's why I push people away. And I know you know that too."

He brushed hair out of my face and looped it behind my ears, just like he often did these days, but then he trailed the tips of his fingers down my jaw and onto my neck, stroking it around to the back, where both of his hands met and squeezed me gently in a kneading motion that relaxed my already loose neck muscles and made my head drop down so my forehead rested against his. The kiss he planted on the side of my jaw almost made me not want to say what I had on the tip of my tongue. Breathing slowly, I continued.

"But I'm always going to be that biting girl, Will. I'm not going to be how I was before, but I'm always gonna curse, and insult people, and just be…evil," I laughed just a little, my chuckle barely audible against the bridge of his nose. "So…if that's something you don't think you want in the girl you're with, or something you don't think you can handle then—"

I was cut off by the feel of his mouth cupping mine, the hands on the back of my neck pulling him into him in such a way that our kiss was immediately the opposite to the slow tender one we had shared just a moment before, this kiss instead deep and heated and probing; approving. I was grinning breathlessly when I pulled away from him, laughing quietly. "Does that mean you can deal with it? 'Cause, ya know, I'm not gonna be easy to cope with, I'm a rough ride kinda gir—"

He laughed this time when he pulled me back into him, forcing my mouth to surrender to his with as much ease as to make me absolutely pathetic. The kiss lasted longer this time but was caught in some sort of delicious middle ground to our two prior ones, a short rollercoaster of lust as well as true affection, and when we let it fizzle out together, his thumbs stroking the soft spot on my hairline, I knew I must have been right when I told him I could see myself falling for him some when.

"That's a yes then?" I grinned, pecking the corner of his mouth softly, my lips still close to his own when I spoke.

"Definitely." He grinned back, his own lips pressed into my jaw so that his response was slightly muffled. He chuckled quietly against my skin, obviously aware of what he was about to say and amused by it; "Hell, I've put up with you up until now; I think I can cope with you after all that."

I leaned back, grinning, amused myself, and pressed one finger to his collarbone, "Oh, you've put up with me? Like I'm a chore?"

He laughed at the playfully indignant look on my face. "To be honest, yes, sometimes you were." His smile was teasing.

Only insulted by about 0.1 out of the full hundred, I had to feign my hurt, gasping and smacking his chest lightly. "That's bullshit, you fucking loved it," I cursed, thoroughly enjoying the feel of such blunt words on my tongue after an evening of such exposed ones.

His expression told me he did, but he leant back in his chair simulating indifference anyway, and he linked his hands behind his head, observing me with a supposedly reflective eye, "You do realise when you swear it makes you seem unintelligent."

I narrowed my eyes at him, hiding my amusement. "My parents wouldn't like it," he added.

Raising an eyebrow at him, I eventually grinned fully. "I should continue doing it then, right?"

His mouth curved to reflect my grin. "Definitely. Now shut up talking bullshit and tell me you want to be with me already."

My grin fading into a smile, I laughed, and I poked my fingers into his sides, nodding; "I want to be with you already."

Chuckling, and nodding back, Will wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me out of the awkwardly arranged way I was half sat in his lap so I was positioned entirely on him, wrapped up by him warmly. "Perfect."

With one of his hands snaking up my back and filtering into the ends of my hair, his lips kissing softly, happily, all the overlooked, plainer features of my face, I realised maybe I was going to fall for him a little sooner than I had thought. And, melting into him, I realised, for the first time ever, that I wasn't scared of that at all.

The End

A/N: And that, as they say, is all folks. Hilton Academy is hereby officially finished. Some people have asked whether there will be an epilogue, but I think if I did that I would definitely end up finishing with something very cheesy (as the last few paragraphs of a story are never, ever my strong point,) and I'd rather that didn't happen. Anyway, I figured I'd give you little teaser summaries about Metamorphosis and Honourshill, as people have been asking about what I'll be doing next, so here it goes:

Metamorphosis: With a long dark hair, curvy hips, a full chest and long lashes one could expect me to be the girly girl that my twin sister, Ness, definitely is; as it turns out, though, a girly girl is the one thing I'm not. My six best friends are guys; one of them is my travel-bound brother, Brett, one of them is his college-going best friend, Adam, and the other four are the crazy asses I've known in school for too many years to count. I steal their clothes, I hide my particularly feminine looking frame under them, and I'm counted as one of the guys; most of the time, at least. I try my best (mostly) at school during the week and pack groceries at the market on the weekend. Things aren't exactly thrilling for me, although, I'm not one to complain, because I have no problem with being comfortable. Being comfortable, in fact, is one of my favourite things to be, which is one of the reasons why I adore spending time with Adam so very much; with the title of The Person Who Knows Me Best, Ad is the guy I seek out when I have a spare minute, and vice versa. He gets me in ways I don't even get myself, and there's a healthy balance in our relationship of sibling-like overprotection and best friend affection. And that's why my world begins to crash down when our friendship shifts; suddenly, my twin is avoiding me, my brother can't do anything but shout at me, and my other group of friends are looking knowingly at one another as if this was a long time coming. When it turns out that the one person who can make you finally feel comfortable in your own skin is the one person other people don't want to see you with, what is it a girl is supposed to do?

Honourshill: After five years of moving, grieving, and watching my mother run away from our loss, I had learnt that the best way to stop myself from getting hurt was to stop myself from getting attached. With my best friend gone forever, and with the reality of a new home every two years, I gave up on letting people in and instead concentrated on just getting on with the simple things in life; school, part times jobs, preparing for college. I studied people, their words, their actions, the meanings behind both, so that I could always say what they wanted me to, and not what I meant, and I learnt to keep as much as my inner self inside as possible, keeping myself protected. But then I moved to Honourshill, and the place I had intended to be only a final pit stop on my journey to college, and my real life, became a place of discovery, a place of understanding, and a place full of attachments. I fell in love with the people; I fell in the love with the place; but, more importantly, I fell for Him, and, although the fall wasn't smooth and easy, I realized he was worth it. He became the boy who gave me back my life.

Notifications: If you would like an email notification of either of my future stories, Metamorphosis, and Honourshill, then send me an email (addy on profile) with 'Insert-Story-Name-Here Notifications' as your subject line. I deleted emails from unrecognised addresses that have no subject, so be sure to fill it in.

Reviews: Thank you, thank you, thank you to every single person who had ever reviewed the story, whether it was once or has been every chapter. Thank you, also, to any of the people who put me on their favourites list, even if they never reviewed, because it's the enjoyment I appreciate. I love writing, and that's why I do it, but it's always amazing when other people seem to like what you're producing; icing on the cake, if you will. So thank you tons for your support, attention, and patience. I think you're all seeempllyy marrrrrvellous! And, as always, also, thank you to those who reviewed the last chapter; use CtrlF to see if you were one of them:

Faded Soulfire, Topaz Dragon, Ashley, crazyhelga, tigress33, QuOtAtA inconsequential me, murky, lilred07, psychedelic mishap, oN-bEnDed-kneE, oHxPerFeCtioNx, why can't I just be tall (love the name,) girlx-unpredictable, NoMoreTears (I failed the test :( bah,) Southern, Jazzy Kitty (kisses!), Amanda, ice flyer, Bananalogic, sarralyn, Kace08 Martini Kisses (chocolate kisses!), DuchessYappingDog, Kittycat78, cbprice25, Ti, storywritergirl, mistii, Frances, slowlydancingtothestars, B.Blum, lilsakura, ReinaLucille, Osunale, paradoxicalbanana (muchly appreciated, you goddess!), TallemeraRane (you're darling,) Zenetta, city-gal7, feelingshortofstable, lostwoods, B.A. Smith, sally-andersonn, alwaysconfused6, Miss-Guppy, anamika, Icyglaze, Tina, Anatidaephobiac, Perfect Bliss, Bubbl3gum, bemused scribbler (rock on with that name!) CryingIvy, erikphantom, theGhost, and Lil Bazza (ooh, in one review you made me love you; please follow me to my next story! Lol.)

Special thanks out of all those to Faded Soulfire, QuOtATa, Kace08, cbprice25, city-gal7, springish, Miss-Guppy, inconsequential me, Tina, and Anatidaephobiac for being the kind of readers who a) rarely miss an update, b) give you insanely long/insightful reviews, and/or c) follow you from story to story. You're the best! :-)

And, finally, thank you to my gorgeous, superb, incandescent, dazzling, super-efficient w00tiful beta Loki Blacktrick who has made all this technically-correct malarkey a whole lot easier; by, pretty much, just doing it all for me, lol. Loki, you're a babe, and you rock!