"And then, the chick was like, 'I don't know who you think I am, but I certainly would not do that with you'," Haydon imitated the girl he was referring to, squishing up his face trying to copy her disgust.

I laughed along with the other men as we walked up the dusty hill, toward the office to get our things. Another long, gruelling work day was about to be finished, and as it was every day at the quarry, I couldn't wait to get home and shower to rid myself of the layer of dirt mixed with sweat covering nearly every inch of my skin.

We all piled in the backdoor of the office to our lockers when our supervisor, Todd Gamble, stuck his head in the door.

"Hey, Matthews!"

I glanced up at the sound of my name. "Yeah?"

"Some classy gal out in the parking lot waiting for you. Came in askin' about ya. She's been out there for about an hour." He disappeared back into the office.

Ignoring the hoots and cat calls I received from my coworkers, I grabbed my bag from my locker and closed it.

"That some hired girl out there waiting to have a go with you?" Haydon called from across the room.

"Hah hah," I called back.

We all piled from the building and trekked our way to the parking lot as we did every single day at five o'clock. The sun was finally beginning to give a reprieve now, with the heat winding down somewhat.

I looked ahead to the lot and stopped walking.

I saw her car, parked next to mine before I saw her standing next to it. She wasn't facing us but there was no mistaking her.

I began walking again before my co-workers could jostle me about it, and I ignored them as they all made their degrading comments regarding the girl waiting there in the lot for me. I could guarantee nobody dressed as nicely as she was had ever stepped foot in that parking lot before. She wore a black skirt that ended above her knees and a red, three quarter sleeve blouse, both of which fit her perfectly.

"What's a classy broad like that doing here for you?" Darryl, a co-worker closest in age to me commented with a sly grin. "I'll take her off your hands for you if you need me to," he offered.

"Trust me, Darryl," I clapped a hand on my friend's shoulder, "You couldn't handle her."

We broke apart as we reached the lot and all branched off to walk to our own cars.

Melody was staring at the ground beneath her black heels but as I approached she looked up. She wore passive indifference in her expression, not that I was surprised by it. I wondered what damage she'd driven six hours to inflict, and felt nauseous at the thought.

"What are you doing here?" I asked her as I tossed my bag in my trunk and slammed it closed. I fiddled anxiously with my keys.

I watched as she became increasingly uncomfortable under my gaze. It wasn't a demeanour she normally possessed as she slouched back against her car and looked back at the ground. "I needed to explain some stuff to you." She looked back up at me.

I grimaced, and watched as my co-workers cars gradually pulled out of the lot and onto the highway. Once they were all gone, I returned my gaze to her and found her still watching me. "Kind of late for that, don't you think?"

"Better late than never, right?"

I shook my head. "I'm not so sure about that. I put two and two together on my own fairly quickly and I don't really need you here, saying it out loud."

She looked bewildered. "What do you think I'm here to tell you?"

"Did you not just hear me? I don't want to talk about it. It's over, Melody. I've moved on. I'm moving on." I hadn't moved on in the literal sense of course, but I sure was trying to get over her and time healed all wounds. Or at least patched them up.

"You can't possibly know why..." she began to say but I didn't let her finish.

"Seriously? You're going to make us do this now when you couldn't say it three months ago? Let me do the honours then!" The anger I felt toward her began to pour out. She wore that bewildered look again but it didn't stop me from continuing. "We come from two different worlds, you and me, right? Take for example these cars. Your beautiful year-old convertible in pristine condition and my twelve year old heap of junk that only starts on the even days. Two completely different worlds."

Melody glanced back and forth between the cars, and then back at me with what seemed to be amusement flickering in her beautiful ocean blue eyes. It only angered me further.

"You and your friends put yourselves above me and my friends in the social ranking based on class. Obviously you couldn't seriously become involved with someone from the other side, now could you? What would others think of you? You couldn't risk your high rank in your social network. I thought you were different than that, but I guess I was wrong."

"Are you done now?"

I glared at her. Any hint of amusement was gone and her plain look of indifference was back.

She pushed away from her car and walked a few steps away from me before turning back and nearing me once more, but stopping short a few feet away. "No, Carter, I'm not different than that. I'm not like that either, though. I don't want to feel like I need everyone's approval on whom I date but it was how I was raised and that's not an easy habit to just break overnight. I'm not going to lie to you. Yes, what you said was true, to an extent anyway," she pulled a face. "I worried what people would think based on those superficial details about ourselves. Not just what my peers would think of you and how they would judge you but I also worried about how the people in your life would judge me."

I scoffed and shook my head, but she didn't stop there.

"All of that though, has nothing to do with why I..."

I studied her as her voice died off, unable to complete her sentence.

"So, are you going to tell me what you came here to tell me then?"

A pained look crossed her features, and she looked away. It was a moment before she spoke. "It's long... and complicated," she said and I could've sworn I heard a break in her voice.

When she finally looked up again, I could see sheen her eyes that normally wasn't present either. I got the distinct impression she was trying not to cry.

"Um, well..." I muttered, trying to come up with something to say. Her presence was unnerving. Even after all she'd done; my feelings for her had remained steadfast. And now I knew without a doubt as she stood before me that the intense attraction I had to her still existed as well. I decided to buy some time to compose myself. "I guess you can just follow me to my place. I need to have a shower. And if you want to say your piece then, you can," I tried to sound displeased with this option.

She nodded and shrugged. "Okay."

Neither of us moved right away, instead we stood there a few feet apart staring at one another. I had a strong desire to touch her wonderful brown curls. I'd missed being able to play with a curl of her hair in the months since I'd seen her, and really I'd missed that among many other things about her.

I cleared my throat, hoping to quell the incessant urge. "Alright, follow me," I stated evenly, jumping in my car and waiting for her to follow.

As I drove the twenty five minute commute home with her following closely behind, I became concerned about bringing her to my house. When I'd made the offer, I hadn't even thought about how she'd be meeting my family for the first time.

My siblings were all aware that I'd had a girlfriend this year and that she'd dropped me. Beyond that they knew nothing. They didn't know her name, they knew nothing of her wealth, and they knew nothing about why it hadn't worked out.

But then again, apparently neither did I.

In the days after we'd officially ended, I'd become convinced that Melody's reversion to her former self had occurred suddenly when she realized she could not date someone of a lower status than her. But now, I believed what she had said back in the parking lot about that not being the truth.

The anger I'd carried with me since the initial days after our relationship ended had all been directed around the class difference being her reasoning. Now that I knew that wasn't so, I wasn't sure what to do with my anger. Although it didn't feel as strong as it usually did, either.

I drove down the street to the second house before a dead end and pulled into the driveway of the small, rundown house I'd grown up in. Melody pulled her car in beside mine.

I waited on the step leading to the small screened front porch for her. She walked toward me from her car slowly but stopped half way up the stone path way.

"I shouldn't be here."

I stepped down onto the path. "What do you mean?"

"I mean I shouldn't be here," she repeated. She looked nervous and if it was possible for Melody Gilmore to look frenzied, she had that look about her now. "I didn't even think. I just got in my car and drove here right away. I should have thought that I'd be intruding on your life but I didn't and now I'm here and I have no right to be here interrupting your life. I should go," she stated.

I was shocked when she actually turned and quickly walked away.

I got over it quick though and chased her to her car where I grasped her arm and forced her to face me again. She shook her head. "Carter, I should go."

I couldn't stop the chuckle the escaped my lips. "Seriously, Melody?" I asked, grinning at her. "You drive all day to get here so you can tell me something and now you're going to flee without telling me whatever it is you've come to say?"

"I just didn't think. I didn't think about your family. I shouldn't be here."

"Don't worry about it. I just need to have a quick shower and then you can say whatever it is you want to tell me and after that if you still want to flee the premises then you can. Just come inside," I coaxed her and she hesitantly followed me inside.

A strong spicy smell was wafting from the kitchen so I followed my nose there, with Melody close behind.

Amelia looked up from where she was stirring something in a frying pan. She smiled and greeted me, "Hi, Carter."

"Hey, smells good. Amelia this is Melody, Melody this is Amelia," I introduced the pair and they exchanged greetings.

"Hi, Carter," came my little brother's voice from inside the kitchen as well. I glanced down and found him sitting at the kitchen table with homework in front of him and a pencil in hand. He didn't look very thrilled.

"Hey, little man. What are you working on?" I asked as I went over to him and tousled his hair.

"Multiplication tables. They're hard," he informed me as he looked up at me.

"Yeah, I never liked them either." I glanced at Melody who was watching us with interest. "Melody this is my favourite brother, Jared."

Jared giggled.

I glanced back at Amelia, "You keep that one to yourself, got it?" I teasingly warned her.

She motioned with two fingers across her lips, "My lips are sealed."

"Jared, this is my friend Melody from school."

Jared studied her as she greeted him and then asked outright, "Are you my brother's girlfriend?"

I didn't even give her a chance to react as I answered for her, "Well little man, she's my friend who's a girl but she's not my girlfriend."

"Why not?" he implored.

Oh, the innocence of children.

I caught Melody staring at me, she looked amused now.

"Sometimes that's just the way it is, kiddo."

He pondered this. "Oh," he stated simply and returned to his homework.

"I'm going for a shower, Melody you can keep Amelia company. I won't be long."

"Good timing, Justin just finished with his," Amelia commented as I left the room and dashed up the stairs.

I met Justin on the top of the landing. "Justin, a friend from school is here. She's with Amelia in the kitchen. Just be nice," I warned him, knowing it was an empty warning because there was no reason Justin wouldn't be nice to her. He was naturally nice to everyone on Earth.

"Sure, man."

I showered as quickly as I could and threw on a clean pair of shorts and a black button up t-shirt before anxiously making my way back downstairs. I pictured that I would find a scene of complete awkwardness in the kitchen with Melody at the centre of it all.

When I entered the kitchen though, Melody was nowhere to be seen. Justin was leaning against the counter munching on sliced peppers from a plate next to him on the counter. Amelia was straining something at the sink and quickly admonished him to stop eating the food before it was served. He just grinned at her and grabbed another piece of green pepper and popped it in his mouth.

"Where's Melody?"

Justin flashed me a grin. "That's your ex girlfriend, isn't it? What's she doing here?"

I ignored his questions and repeated mine, "Where's Melody?"

Amelia and Justin exchanged sly glances just as I noticed Jared's absence from the kitchen as well. His homework still lay on the table, but he was gone.

"Where's Jared?"

"Man, you need to see this."

Justin pushed off the counter and motioned for me to follow him. Amelia smiled at me knowingly as I passed her and followed Justin to the back screened porch. I saw Melody's heels abandoned just inside the screen door. Justin pointed.

My jaw dropped at the sight in our tiny fenced in backyard. There was Melody, bare foot in her fancy skirt and blouse with a catcher's mitt on her hand. She held a baseball in the other hand and Jared stood a few feet away, a glove on his hand as well. He was thinking hard about something while Melody watched him with an expectant, encouraging look on her face.

"Fifteen!" Jared suddenly shouted and his face lit up as Melody tossed him the ball. He caught it and jumped up and down a couple times before bracing himself to throw back but he paused and waited.

Melody's gloved hand hung limply at her side as she smiled at Jared. "Three times six!"

"Holy crap."

Justin laughed. "Yeah, I figured that wasn't a usual sight with her." He gave me a look. "She's actually doing really well with him. As soon as you were in the shower he asked her to play catch with him. Amelia and I both told him no way, not 'til his homework was done and that girl there, she looked at us and asked if she could try something with him. We had no idea what she was up to but we watched as she worked out a way for him to do his homework and play catch. Brilliant, that's what that is."

"Eighteen!" Jared shouted.

Melody held up her glove and he threw the ball to her.

"Holy crap," I said again, astonished.

"I know we've kind've just left you to your thing but now that I've met her I've gotta ask. Why is it she's your ex girlfriend and not your girlfriend?"

I kept watching the exchange between Melody and Jared as I answered him, "I don't actually know. Apparently that's what she's here to tell me."

Justin didn't say anything. He clasped his hand to my shoulder and squeezed once before heading back to his girlfriend.

I stayed inside the confines of the porch and continued to watch them. If Jared would get a question wrong she would shake her head once and wait patiently until he came up with the correct answer before she'd either throw or receive the ball. If Jared began to get frustrated trying to figure out an answer, she would gently encourage him by telling him that he knew it and to just clear his mind and start over again.

It was an amazing sight. I felt like I was seeing Melody in a new light, but even more than that I was aware that I was probably witnessing her growing as a person. She'd been raised as an only child and had once mentioned to me that she had zero experience with kids. I knew that this was a new experience for her and she was excelling in the role.

Justin came back a few short minutes later. "Dinner's ready."

I glanced at him. "Is everyone here for it?"

"Naw. Mik's at work and Alysha's over at Kate's for dinner. Mik's walking her home later."

I nodded. "Jared," I called through the screen. "Dinner time!"

"Tacos!!!" Jared shouted as he came dashing back into the house at full speed.

Melody came back into the porch. "Tacos?" she asked and I couldn't read her expression.

"You don't like tacos?" I asked.

She smiled and shook her head. "That's not it. I love tacos. I just don't think I've had tacos since Gabrielle's fiesta themed birthday party when she turned eight."

I followed her into the kitchen, my appreciating gaze giving her a once over before we joined my family.

Melody continued to surprise me at dinner. She'd chosen to sit at the other end of the table from me with my sisters who were peppering her with questions as they enjoyed their tacos. She answered their curious questions before asking her own to Lilah and Sarah, both regarding things I had told her about them and also asking them things she didn't know about their lives.

Justin and Amelia kept looking from Melody to me and then looking at one another slyly. They thought I wasn't noticing their silent conversation, but I was aware.

Melody helped Amelia and Lilah clean up afterward, while Jared sat at the table finishing his homework. Once he was done he asked Melody to look it over and she obliged.

I watched in awe as she conversed with my siblings, and Amelia whom I considered to be a member of the family as well. Watching her talk to them, laugh with them, and listen to their stories, you'd never have known she'd only met them a mere two hours before. You would also never guess she was completely out of her element. I considered the thought that maybe she wasn't out of her element truly; maybe this was where she was at her best, surrounded by family.

The thought stung given our current status. I was also saddened that I was only now witnessing this radiant, alive side to Melody as I'd only caught glimpses of this persona during our relationship.

It was eight o'clock in the evening before I was able to pull her away from the others. We stepped out in front of the house and sat down on the concrete steps there. I sat next to the railing on the one side and she sat, leaning against the railing on the other side, leaving enough room that a third person would be able to sit between us.

"You know, you can't very well leave and do a six hour drive tonight," I told her. "We can set you up in one of the girl's rooms. Mikayla and Lilah's room has a couch you can sleep on. We have plenty of spare blankets and pillows. I'm sure we can find something for you to sleep in."

She nodded. "I'm okay for something to sleep in though. I grabbed some things before I left home this morning, they're in my trunk. I knew I wasn't going to make it both ways in one day, I just figured I'd be sleeping at some hotel along the way home though," she told me. "But, I would really like to stay here."

"It's not a problem. I'd worry if you were to leave tonight, I'd prefer to know you're here and you're okay," I said quietly, kicking at some loose rubble on the bottom step.

We sat quietly for a few minutes and I listened to the sounds of the spring evening. An occasional car driving in the distance, crickets around the side of the house, two neighbours conversing a few houses over.

"I'm sorry," she blurted out.

I turned my head toward her slightly, not looking at her head on.

She clasped her hands tightly together and let them rest on her knees before meeting my eyes. There was softness to her expression that I wasn't used to and I felt alarmed for the second time that day that she might burst into tears.

"I..." she bit her lip before attempting again. "I didn't mean what I said. You were never just a fling to me. You've always been so much more than that. I'm sorry I said it."

I remembered her cruel words clearly, and their razor sharp infliction on my emotions.

I also remembered lashing out in retaliation.

"You know I didn't mean what I said to you either? I was just angry."

She shrugged. "Maybe you didn't mean it, that doesn't mean it's not true."

I couldn't honestly dispute that because she did have a real history of being a bitch. But she'd also shown me she had it in her to be a completely different person than that as well.

"You're so much more than that though," I reassured her.

Instantly, I could see tears glistening in her eyes as she raised her gaze to the pink-tinged sky.

"Have you ever considered becoming a teacher?" I asked her.

She looked at me, an unreadable expression crossing her features. "No. I've never really thought much about anything for a career," she reminded me.

"I was watching you, with Jared. You were amazing with him. I think you might be a natural teacher."

She looked forward, across the road. "I've never even really talked to a kid before tonight."

"Exactly. An outsider never would've guessed that if they'd seen how you were with him. With Lilah and Sarah, too."

She seemed to be turning the idea over in her head. "A teacher?" she asked quietly, but I knew she wasn't seeking an answer from me.

Two familiar female voices broke our contented silence and I looked over to see Mikayla and Alysha at the edge of the driveway. Both of the girls were looking at the unknown car as they walked across the yard. They stopped in front of us and I could see Mikayla studying Melody, clearly already fascinated by this new person and her sense of style. Alysha raised an eyebrow, questioning the situation.

"Mik, Alysha, this is my friend Melody. Melody, my remaining sisters, Mikayla and Alysha."

Both girls murmured hellos to Melody, clearly enraptured by the stranger just as the rest of my siblings had been.

Melody smiled warmly to them and greeted them.

"Mik, Melody's crashing on the couch in your room tonight. Can you grab a pillow and some blankets for her?"

"Sure, no problem!" Mikayla readily agreed, a normally difficult thing to achieve with any other request that might be thrown her way from either Justin or I.

I stood and let them pass to get in. When I sat back down again Melody spoke up once more.

"It's amazing."

"What's amazing?"

"The reason I almost bailed early was because I was terrified of meeting your family. But they're amazing."

"They're all very intrigued by you. You've surprised me tonight."

"How so?"

"You just, I don't know. You fit right in. You've impressed me. In the interest of full disclosure tonight, I'll be honest and say that I never expected when you met my family for it to go so well. I know it's not what you're used to, but it just seems right for you to be here." I shifted, uncomfortable with my choice of wording.

Melody was quiet for a few long moments. "I need to tell you what happened, and why it happened."

I nodded. I willed myself to stay quiet while she made her reveal, not wanting to interrupt.

Melody fidgeted with the end of her skirt and made a point of looking everywhere but at me when she began to speak.

"I know I've told you before about my parents a bit but I think I should start there. They're my parents and I know they love me, but they don't show me that in any conventional way. It was normal to me for my parents to be so closed off from me, and even from each other because it was all I'd ever known so for me it was all I could ever expect and accept. They're relationship is very much like a business arrangement. And as far as I can tell, they are perfectly happy with things to be that way. I grew up very isolated, and I guess that's why I'm so independent, and also so stubborn."

"My only real peer interaction was with my friends whom had fallen into being my friends mostly by connections amongst our parents. MacKenzie's been my best friend practically from birth. MacKenzie was my only real true friend during high school. She was there for me when my first relationship ended in disaster and had devastating consequences for me amongst our social circle. She even threatened to end her already then strong relationship with Parker who was taking part in the anti-Melody brigade. Parker and MacKenzie had been destined to be together forever from the day they met. They could see it, and so could everyone else. Their union made sense logistically but they were always infatuated with one another as well and they fell in love as we got older. I guess you could say they were the only normal relationship framework I witnessed over the years."

"This is an embarrassing part but you already know that I've always been about doing what is expected of me. Well, going away to school was never really about getting a degree. It was about finding a suitable match that our community would approve of. I don't think any of us really came for the education part except for Kayleigh."

"And then you came along." She finally looked at me and smiled.

I felt my pulse quicken as I anticipated what she was to say next.

"You drove me crazy when you first came along. I think it was only because I was so determined to dislike you and you were so determined to be in my life. I think I wanted to dislike because I subconsciously knew what you could mean to me, and who I was then was very subconsciously aware of how devastating that would be for my reality. Somewhere along the way though, I realized I wasn't capable of not liking you. And then you began to open me up to all these thoughts and possibilities I'd never considered for myself before. I didn't have a clue who I was until I met you. Even now, I'm just figuring it out but I wasn't open to it before."

"I fell for you hard, and fast. Everything with you that last day felt so perfect. And then Kenzie called." Her smile faded.

My stomach twisted, remembering that night and then the days of not knowing that followed. It all came down to this, what she was about to finally tell me, after months of leaving me in the dark.

"I got to Kenzie and learned that Parker, Kenzie's destined future husband, had destroyed my best friend in a moment of weakness. All I could think was if Parker could cheat on MacKenzie, what man wouldn't be capable of that same betrayal? MacKenzie was a broken soul crumpled in my arms, and I knew then that that's exactly what I didn't want for myself."

"The girl I was before you came along took over again. I was ruled by fear before, and that fear returned ten-fold. Based on my parents' relationship I had always believed it was better to leave emotions out of it because then there was no chance of being hurt."

"I was afraid of you. Afraid of what you could do to hurt me. So I decided I had to end it. I couldn't face you though, because I was also a coward. I've never really learned how to handle emotion let alone discuss it. So that wasn't an option. That's why I lied when you confronted me. Because I couldn't tell you the truth."

"Why now, though?" I asked.

"The whole reason I cut myself off from you was to avoid getting hurt. I was stupid and naive about it though because all I did was hurt myself. You have no idea how miserable I've been these last..."

"I may have an idea," I interrupted.

Her eyes glistened once more and this time, tears escaped, sliding slowly down her ivory cheeks. She swatted at them.

"I had never told MacKenzie about you. But she showed up at my place this morning with that knowledge gained from the rest of our friends, Kayleigh in particular. Nobody knows me better than Kenzie." She looked at me sideways, "Although, you may be the exception."

"Kenzie said everything I needed to hear but hadn't wanted to before. Life is messy, and all I've ever done is avoid living my life to avoid the mess and the potential hurt but I don't want to do that anymore. I don't think I can do that anymore. I think you changed that for me."

I nodded, trying to digest all she'd just revealed. I wasn't really surprised by any of it because I realized she was right, I probably did know her just as well as MacKenzie. Everything she'd just said made sense with who she was and who I could see she was becoming, or trying to allow herself to become, anyway.

"What do you want now?" I asked her.

She considered this carefully. "I came here today because I needed to set things right with us. You always deserved to know why I panicked and shut you out. But beyond that, what I want from you doesn't matter. I don't deserve to have that choice because of how I've treated you. I've been very selfish when it comes to you, Carter, and I'm sorry for that. So what I'm trying to say is what happens now with us is up to you and what you want."

I took my time with this information. I watched the street lamps flicker on as darkness began to descend upon us. "I don't know what I want," I told her finally. It wasn't the complete truth but it wasn't a complete lie either. I wanted her, but I wanted her without having to fear she'd run from me again and I wasn't about to set myself up for that.

"I understand."

"Will you stay tomorrow? I mean, I have to work during the day but I know that I'd like for you to be here when I come back tomorrow evening."

"Sure," she agreed. "I can stay another night."

We sat quietly for a while longer, both of us thinking about how we'd gotten to this point and where we could go from here. The darkness had enveloped us by the time we stood to go in. Before we did though I gathered her in my arms, and we stood holding tightly to one another as I considered what tomorrow might mean for us.


My alarm went off at six thirty am as it always does but I woke up feeling differently than I did on every other day before that. A feeling of uncertainty had replaced the ache I'd awoken with every morning since Melody had decided she was finished with me.

But now, she'd surfaced once more and poured her heart out and left the future of our relationship up to me. One thing I'd always been aware of about Melody was that she had a difficult time opening herself up.

So, for her to come here and not just give me the gist of why she'd done what she had done but instead she had told me everything in complete detail, and that was a huge step for her.

I couldn't help but wonder if I'd underestimated her. She'd surprised me more than once last night and as much as I could see through her as I got to know her; I definitely hadn't expected her to gel so well with my family. And then for her to open up so fully; I was just amazed at the entire thing. Her presence in my home, probably still sleeping in my sisters' room, felt surreal.

"How am I actually out of bed before you?" Justin asked as he crossed our room. "That never happens," he commented before ducking out the door.

He was right, and even after I finally dragged myself out of bed. I felt sluggish and slow. I pulled on my pants and shuffled down the hall. Yawning I ran my hand through my mop of hair and was scratching my bare stomach when I bumped right into Melody who rounded the corner coming out of the bathroom.

She tucked a stray curl behind her ear and smiled up at me sheepishly. "Good morning."

I cocked my head and studied her. There was something different about her. Her thick brown curls were piled atop her head in a messy bun thing but there was something else. She had absolutely no makeup on.

So this was Melody au natural.

"'Morning," I replied. "You look really pretty today."

She pulled a face which clearly showcased her disbelief. "Right," she answered slowly. "I just woke up, nobody looks pretty this early in the morning."

"Not true because you do," I grinned as she blushed, a rarity with her.

"Thank you. I'm still tired so I'm heading back to bed. I'll see you later, I guess?"

"You will."

She nodded and stepped around me. I watched her retreat before going about my day.

Work that day was longer than usual. The heat this month had already been ridiculously humid and it wasn't even officially the summer season yet. The guys were hassling me about who Melody was and what she wanted with some dork like me. And I couldn't stop running everything over in my mind. I thought about what she'd said the night before, and everything that had ever happened between us from our initial run in at the pub to the time back in December in the elevator to the last day we spent together.

I was exhausted from not only the work at the end of the day but at all the thinking I'd done. My mind was running on overdrive, and as per usual with me, I found myself overanalyzing every detail and every possibility.

When I pulled into the driveway at home and parked next to Melody's car, I was puzzled by Justin standing in front of the house on his own. He was still in his grease covered uniform, and I assumed he hadn't been home from the garage for long.

"What's up?" I asked as I walked up the path.

He looked at me and I saw his expression then. He looked completely bewildered.

"It's like the twilight zone in there," he said to me, dead serious.

I chuckled at his seriousness. "What are you talking about?"

"Carter, I'm telling you. I... It's just... Wow." He shook his head and a small smile finally came through. "You should see it. I was just... I don't know, overwhelmed I guess by it. I had to step outside."

"Overwhelmed by what?"

"They're all getting along. And!!! They are all in the same room."

My heart skipped a beat. "They are not," I breathed, unable to get a firm grasp on what he was saying.

His eyes widened a little. "Man, I haven't seen anything like it in years. Mikayla's acting like a human being and nobody's arguing and they're all laughing. All five of them. I swear. Where did you find that girl? She's got them baking and making dinner together and they look like they're actually enjoying it!"

All seven of us living together in such tight quarters had always caused tension to rise quickly and arguments broke out frequently amongst our younger siblings. I wasn't sure I'd seen Mikayla be nice to everyone at the same time in years. You could always count on Mik to create some sort of drama with at least one of her sisters. If there was only a couple of the youngsters around at the same time then there was less likely to be an issue. But get them all together and watch the fireworks begin.

"I'm serious, man. You have to see it."

I scoffed. "I guarantee some battle will have broken out in the time you've been out here," I told him as we headed inside.

The scene in the kitchen was the opposite of a battlefield.

I stood at the doorway and watched in awe, and listened to their animated chattering.

Mikayla was smiling and icing some cupcakes while Sarah decorated them. Alysha and Jared were setting the table. Jared was skipping around, hyper as he usual was but the difference this time was none of his sisters were chiding him for it or telling him to stop. Lilah stood next to Melody at the stove and was stirring something in a pot.

"Hi, Carter!" Jared shouted as he ran by me to grab more glasses.

All my sisters looked my way at once and smiled.

Melody glanced over her shoulder and flashed me a vibrant smile before she turned her attention back to something in a frying pan.

All of the analyzing and thinking I'd done that day went flying out the window as I strode across the kitchen to her. I didn't hesitate as I gently grasped her hips and turned her to face me. I lost all awareness of everything around us as I pressed my lips firmly against hers. I felt her surprise but she recovered quickly and returned the kiss eagerly.

When we broke apart, she stared at me with wide eyes and her cheeks were tinged with pink. I noticed then that the kitchen had fallen completely silent apart from the sizzling food in the frying pan.

I could see the question in her eyes as I brushed my knuckle lightly down her cheek.

"Okay?" I phrased it as a question.

She smiled coyly and nodded. "Okay."

"Are you my brother's girlfriend now?" Jared appeared next us and was looking up at us with an innocent curiosity.

"Yes, squirt, she is," I answered for her, just as I had the day before.

Jared nodded approvingly. "Good, because I like you."

I could see that my sisters agreed with Jared by their dreamy expressions and the knowing looks they exchanged. Justin gave me the thumbs up as Melody turned back to her cooking.

Even though we both needed to shower and clean ourselves up, Justin and I skipped doing so until after dinner that night. There was no way either of us was going to pass up spending time with all of the siblings in one room actually getting along and enjoying each other's company.

After dinner and after I'd finally showered and changed, Melody and I sat on the fronts steps just as we had the previous evening.

This time though, we sat next to each other with her leaning against me and our clasped hands rested above my knee.

"I've missed you," I told her as we gazed at one another.

Her smiled widened. "I missed you, too."

"Promise me next time you get scared, you'll talk to me instead of running," I requested.

She nodded. "I promise."

For the next hour we sat and talked and laughed. We caught up on things we'd missed out on in each other's lives during our time apart. She revealed to me about Courtney's visit and Courtney's request that she not tell anyone. I told her about my outburst toward Courtney and how we'd finally made amends when I apologized to her for what I'd said. I was surprised by Melody's revelation about Courtney's visit but also touched by Courtney's attempt on my behalf. I was relieved I hadn't known until now though, because if I'd found out at the time I realized I would've reacted adversely because my feelings were still raw and sour at that point in time.

We stole kisses every other minute, unable to get close enough to one another to make up for all the missed time.

Just as the sun was beginning to set, I saw a dark town car driving slowly down the street. It had tinted windows and looked as out of place on the street as Melody's car. I told her my observation. She glanced down the street at the town car which had gotten closer to us. I felt her tense and heard her gasp.

"Oh, God," she murmured. "I don't know what's about to happen but I apologize in advance."

"What are you talking about?" I asked her just as the car slowed to a stop in front of my house.

She shifted away from me and dropped my hand, using both her hands to cover her face.

Four people stepped out of the vehicle almost simultaneously. The driver came around in front of the car; he'd pulled it over to the side of the road, and now stood there with his arms crossed. A young man, dressed similar to the driver crossed the road and approached Melody's car without even looking at us.

The man and woman who'd appeared from the back seat of the car were unmistakeably Melody's parents. Melody's mom held her head high and her father looked venomous as they crossed the road together. They stopped at the end of the driveway.

Melody peeked out from behind her hands and stared at them.

"Get in the car," her father instructed, pointing behind him.

"No," Melody responded weakly.

I didn't know how to react. It felt like they had come to collect their daughter as though she was still a child and not the adult woman she actually was.

"Get in the car!" her father shouted and I stood up and automatically stepped in front of her, in a defensive move.

"Don't be so ridiculous, Melody," her mother chided, never breaking pose. "Do as your father asks."

"I'm not a child, mother!" Melody appeared at my side and took a few steps toward them.

I was relieved to see that we were on the same page regarding their arrival.

"A mature young woman does not lie to her parents about her whereabouts nor does she dally around with..." her father paused and looked at me and snarled, "Someone quite so below her standards."

I was rendered officially speechless as I saw for the first time exactly what Melody had tried to describe to me about her parents. I could imagine them all I wanted, but it wasn't until meeting them that I truly understood their close-minded ignorance.

"You don't even know him," Melody snarled back. "You can't just show up here and force me to go back with you. I won't do it," she declared.

"Really, Melody. Stop this childish behaviour at once," her mother scolded.

I heard the screen door open behind us and then Justin's voice. "Is everything okay out here?"

Melody's father stepped forward and pointed to the town car again. "Get in the car," he told her in a low voice, a voice that told me he meant business.

As Melody began to refuse him once more I realized that there was no way I'd have a chance at ever gaining her parents' approval if I agreed with their daughter's direct refusal to follow their orders.

"You don't even know him. You have no right to just show up here and tell me what I have to do. I'm nineteen; I can do what I want. I can see who I want."

"You're wasting your time. Whatever you think this is, darling, it's never going to go anywhere," her mother said as she came forward to stand next to her husband.

"This is the last time I'm going to say it, Melody. Get in the car."

Melody let out a high pitch shriek and then she screamed at both of them. "How dare you! I love him!"

"Melody," I stated calmly. "You should go with them."

She whipped around, a hurt expression in her eyes.

I nodded, encouraging her to go.

She stared at me a few seconds longer and then fled to the car with her mother following her.

Mr. Gilmore unleashed another cold stare on me. "Smart choice. Does my daughter have anything in this..." he gave the house a disgusted glance, "House?"

"I'll get her stuff," Justin offered and I heard him go back inside.

Melody's father continued staring at me coldly and I returned his glare until Justin appeared with Melody's bag. He handed the bag to Mr. Gilmore.

"I think that's everything."

"Well, then..." An awkward beat passed before he headed to the car.

I watched as the town car pulled away and then as the fourth man pulled Melody's car out of the driveway and followed them.

As soon as they were out of a sight, I felt like I came out of a daze and I became aware of the strange sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Justin stood next to me, looking as though he wanted to say something.

"What just happened?" I asked feeling as though I was in shock.

Justin shot me a knowing glance, an annoyed one at that. "You can be pretty dense sometimes, Carter."

I narrowed my eyes. "What do you mean?"

"The girl just declared her love for you and you basically told her to go home in response."

"What are you talking... about...?" I barely finished the question as I recalled her words.

I love him!

"Oh, shit," I breathed.

Justin grunted. "You can say that again."


Author's Note: This chapter was sooooooo much harder than the other ones I've written over the last week. One reason, probably because it's three times longer than the average M&C chapter. But also because I couldn't come up with a solid way to have the end play out but I think it turned out okay. Yay, melody redeemed but now carter's in the doghouse. Haha :) next chapter is the last chapter but then there will be a short epilogue as well. Don't know if I'll get them written before I go away on my cruise later this week. But I think i've redeemed myself with my crazy updating in the last week that i think you guys can forgive me if you have to wait for the rest of the story, right?