Chapter Three

1996

It was a cold afternoon in January and Perry had trudged through the snow to Cadence's house because he'd probably been bored with nothing else to do…or so she believed. His older brother, Rome, lived twenty miles away in Washington, DC and his younger brother, London, was out having a snowball fight with the rest of the neighborhood kids. Madison lived about seven miles away, and there was no way in hell Perry could even get out of the driveway with the amount of snow that had been dumped on the area. They'd probably be out of school for days, if not, weeks. At the moment, Perry had made himself comfortable on a couch in Cadence's basement while they watched movies. Her father was upstairs in his home office, typing away at the computer.

"It feels like I haven't seen you in ages," Perry remarked almost casually, looking over at her.

"Yeah, I know…what with you driving Madison now and me being with Damien…"

A scowl crossed Perry's face when she mentioned Damien. When they'd begun seeing each other, it had become apparent that Perry did not like Damien at all. Cadence didn't think Perry liked the way Damien was brutally honest, and Damien didn't kiss Perry's ass like everyone else did. When they were all together, the guys barely tolerated each other's presence. Madison was skittish around Damien as well…come to think of it, the only one of her friends that seemed comfortable around Damien was Morgan. Cadence didn't mind though, what she and Damien had was perfect for her. He spoke to her sense of adventure and made her feel important, valued. They hadn't had sex…yet, but Cadence felt as though she could if the opportunity presented itself. She wasn't head-over-heels in love with him, it wasn't a fairytale, but it was fun and unpredictable.

Perry and Madison on the other hand…they had their good times and they had their bad times; the good times were almost sickeningly sweet, while the bad times were heartbreaking to watch. All the while telling herself that it was high school and nothing serious would happen, Madison had fallen for Perry. He'd had to show her a vulnerable side to him to get her to trust him, and seeing that side made her fall. Perry, while completely taken with her delicate prettiness, kind nature, and quiet bookishness, got frustrated by the slow pace of things sometimes. He never wanted to rush her, but he always felt "held back," as he had told Cadence. Just last week, he'd written Madison a letter explaining how the level of stress upon him had become so great that he needed to take a break from being with her because he didn't feel as though he could give her a hundred percent. This was a lie. Perry needed time away from Madison so that he didn't have to deal with the stress of being perfect for her. He just wanted to be carefree and flirt and fool around. To her credit, Madison wasn't moping around or anything, but Cadence could tell she wasn't convinced that Perry was being entirely truthful with her. Cadence had taken to avoiding conversations with her because Madison would frequently bring up Perry in ways she thought were inconspicuous, plainly trying to get a sense of when he was coming back to her.

"What do you have against Damien, Paris?" Cadence asked.

"He's a criminal, Cadence!"

"He is not a criminal. He's just impatient with people sometimes. He's not the kind of person that can take being held back by the rules of high school."

"And you're comfortable being with someone that gets 'impatient' with people?"

"Damien isn't anymore impatient with me than you are with Maddie…by the way, you need to talk to her, the girl is so confused."

He heaved a great, rumbling sigh. "She makes me feel like the lowest asshole on the face of the earth every time I even look at her."

"Maybe that's 'cause you know you're wrong."

"Cady, I can't be what she needs me to be. I'm not ready for that. I love her―"

Here Cadence made some noise of disbelief.

"No, I do, I really do. What I feel for Maddie is unlike anything I've ever felt before, but I'm not ready to give up just being…me. Being with her makes me different; sometimes I like that, sometimes I don't…I'm just not ready for the seriousness anything with her commands, but at the same time…I don't want to hurt her."

Cadence fell silent at that proclamation. Perry really had grown up; he'd grown up enough to realize that he was still immature. She wondered if that was all Madison's doing.

"So what are you going to do? Just not talk to her until you're ready to be who she needs you to be?"

"That's just it…I don't think I'll ever be who she needs me to be."

"Shouldn't Maddie have some say in that?"

"Trust me, I know what Maddie needs. I'm not it."

"And that makes you feel―"

"Bad, real bad. I feel like I've set her up for this huge fall…she didn't even want to be with me at first, and then she started liking me…I didn't know it would turn out like this."

"Sucks," Cadence said because she couldn't think of anything else. "Hey, you want some hot chocolate?"

"Depends. Do you have anymore of that haze stuff your grandma got you?"

Cadence laughed. "The hazelnut milk chocolate?"

"Yeah, that."

"Yeah, I'll be back in like ten minutes."

"I know my way around your kitchen, I'll come with you. Besides, trusting you to walk down the stairs with two hot mugs is asking for trouble."

"Hey! I'm coordinated."

"Right…and you quit dance class because?"

"Ballet was boring. I'm a great dancer, not like Camille great, but I'm still fierce."

"Why didn't you ever try out for poms or the dance team?" Perry asked.

"I wanted to be able to focus all my attention on my school work, I guess…and I didn't want to do anything Camille had done first."

"I don't understand why you and Camille have never gotten along…" Perry trailed off at the look on Cadence's face. She set two mugs down on the kitchen counter and ripped open the box of hot chocolate.

"Camille is a whiny bitch that always gets what she wants and covers up all of her misdeeds with this sweet and innocent act that fools everybody. It's been like that since we were kids. I really don't have any incentive to talk to her."

"Damn, yo."

"Yeah, it's like that," Cady muttered, putting powder into both mugs. She stared off at the snowy scene unfolding outside of the kitchen for a minute before heaving a sigh and turning back to him. "So how're Rome and Donny? I haven't seen Rome in forever."

"Fine, fine. Rome thinks he's going to make partner soon―"

"That's great!"

"Yeah, mom is over the moon about it. Donny's getting into trouble at school―"

"Oh…wow."

Perry shot her a sidelong glance. "Not like Damien or anything."

"Hey!"

"What? His record speaks for itself," he shrugged.

"He hasn't been suspended at all this year," Cady said defensively.

"Yeah, yet," Perry rolled his eyes. "It's only a matter of time before he's caught selling crack or something."

"Alright, shut up," Cadence snapped with serious steel in her voice. "You don't know Dame."

"I don't want to know Dame," he said petulantly.

" Paris."

"I'm sorry, Cady―"

"Apology accepted," she said, turning on the kettle.

"But he's just not right for you."

Apparently, this was the wrong thing to say. Her eyebrows rose in twin arches and her lips tightened. "Excuse me?"

Perry went on doggedly. "He's not right for you, Cady."

"Who are you to decide who's right for me and who's not? You can't even decide that for yourself. It seems like you're doing a lot of deciding for the women in your life. You might want to re-examine your position before you find yourself alone."

He knew he was skating on thin ice, but he felt compelled to let his opinion on her relationship with Damien Cross be known. This was one of those times when tact and reason escaped him simultaneously. "Look, I know what I'm talking about. You're…you're…good. Damien Cross is…bad―"

"You're going to have to get a larger vocabulary before you try to convince me of anything regarding my relationship with Dame."

Perry growled in frustration and made to say something else on the topic, but thought better of it. "Fine. I didn't come over here to fight with you, I came over here because I missed my best friend."

Cadence stilled. They hadn't really defined their relationship more than being friends again. She wasn't really sure if she could call him her best friend. Morgan had held that title for three years now, and she and Perry had only been on speaking terms since August. In that short time, however, they'd made great strides in regaining the friendship they'd once had.

"I missed you too, blockhead."

She moved to turn off the now whining kettle and fill the mugs. "I feel like I should be helping with something," Perry said, watching her.

"You can carry your own mug downstairs. I'm not so helpless that I can't pour hot water," Cadence smiled teasingly, handing him his mug.

"Sometimes I'm not convinced, miss 'Perry don't you want to carry me up the stairs?' If you only―"

"When have I ever asked you if you wanted to carry me up the stairs?"

"Um…basically every day we go to the cafeteria." He opened the basement door for her. "If you only stopped wearing those high heels your knees wouldn't hurt that much."

"But I look hot in them," Cadence said as she reached the floor, turning around and smiling smugly at Perry.

He chose not to voice his comments on her attractiveness. She looks hot in anything. Even now when she was wearing a pair of pale yellow pajama pants with fuzzy baby chicks on them and a white tank top, she looked good. With her dark coffee hair in riotous curls falling past her shoulders around her make-up-less face, she looked good. With her hands clasped around a mug of hazelnut hot chocolate and that smug smile tugging at her lips and darkening her eyes, she looked good. Stop thinking about her that way. However, it was hard to deny. He almost tripped down the last stair looking at that cute face of hers instead of where his feet were going.

"And I'm the uncoordinated one?" she arched an eyebrow and went into the TV room, setting her mug on the end table.

"Yeah, well…" he trailed off. He couldn't think of any comeback while his mind was still on the way her lips moved when she spoke. Madison Wright, Madison Wright, Madison Wright. You love Madison Wright. Madison Wright is your girlfriend. Cady is your friend. Cady is with…Damien.

"What movie do you want to watch?"

"Movie?"

"Yeah, I doubt anything good is on TV right now, it's only like four o'clock. It's probably all little kid shows. You probably still watch cartoons though."

"Do not."

"Liar."

"Okay, sometimes I watch Batman reruns, but that's only when I need background noise."

"Whatever. We've got… The Brady Bunch Movie, Forest Gump and Bad Boys."

"What's with the stupid movies?"

"They're not stupid, you're just narrow-minded."

"If I have to pick one…Bad Boys."

"I like Bad Boys." She popped the tape into the VHS, pressed play and settled onto the couch with her fuzzy-sock-covered feet in Perry's lap.

"Do I look like a footstool to you?" Perry asked, arching an eyebrow at her.

In turn, Cady looked at him in mock serious consideration, "yes, yes, I say you do. Especially that flat top head of yours."

"Oh you done fucked up now," he said and began tickling her feet mercilessly. Shrieking, Cadence began flopping around like a fish. If there was one weakness she had, it was being tickled. Whether her skin was extremely sensitive or what…she was ticklish everywhere. As his hands moved from tickle spot to tickle spot over her body, he tried to retain the innocence of making her laugh, but his mind kept playing images of him touching her in not-so-innocent places. And when his eyes fell six inches below her face as she giggled and squirmed, he started with alarm as his body began reacting in ways he couldn't control.

"Perry, quit it!" she gasped between peals of laughter.

No problem. He retracted his hands as if he'd just touched a hot stove. What is the MATTER with me?

Cadence sat up on the floor as she regained her breath. For some reason that had felt decidedly playfully in a bad kind of way to her, and that wasn't good. She got to her feet awkwardly and sat on the other side of the couch, this time without her feet in her lap.

"I guess I won't be using you as a footstool then," she said, to fill in the awkward space.

Thankfully, he followed her lead. "Better not be. You―"

"Sh! Movie's coming on."

"You can't―"

"Sh!"

"But―"

"Sh!"

Huffing, Perry fell silent. He wondered when it wouldn't be so simple to fall back into their usual banter to cover an awkward moment. Not that we'll be having any more of those variety. He'd known Cady was attractive ever since he saw her at his beach party, but that hadn't stood in the way of them having a normal friendship until now. Maybe this was just frustration with the situation between he and Madison being taken out on Cady. If he had a girl that was satisfying both his physical and emotional needs, his thoughts…and his eyes wouldn't be wandering. Letting himself take comfort in that thought, he settled into the couch and focused on Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.


Two hours and two empty mugs of hot chocolate later, they were engaged in a conversation about college and what would come afterwards. With school heading into the last leg of the race, the real world was fast approaching. Cady was filled with not a little bit of apprehension, but she was more excited than anything else. She'd narrowed her choices between where her parents went: Howard University, where most of her friends were going: University of Maryland, College Park and where the weather was beautiful: University of Miami. There were the upsides and downsides to each choice, of course, and it was proving hard to make "one of the most important decisions" (as all of her school's guidance counselors said) of her life.

"So what are you thinking about?" she asked Perry, but already knew the answer.

"Whoever has the best team for me and offers the most money," he shrugged. "I'm leaning towards College Park."

"You know you just want everyone to kiss your ass like they do now."

A fleeting look of hurt crossed his face. He really was trying to get away from how he'd acted the past two years. Although it still felt good to be congratulated and lauded as the best basketball player to walk the halls of Eisenhower High, he took it with more humbleness. Once he'd attempted to look at himself through Cady's eyes, all he felt was disgust with himself. He couldn't believe he'd let himself descend so far into rudeness, unnecessary rudeness at that. Perry believed he'd been on his best behavior so far. Was he wrong?

"You think that's what I want?" he asked quietly.

She squirmed uneasily. "Well, come on Perry…you can't say it's not tempting. Why wouldn't you take preferential treatment, national recognition and girls throwing themselves at you?"

"I've had all of that Cady. I don't want it anymore. Do I seem like that person anymore?"

"But this is on the next level," she went on.

" College Park has a solid team that I feel as though I could contribute to, the academic side isn't bad, and they're sure to throw me a full ride. The fact that most of our class is going there has nothing to do with my decision," he said seriously.

"I'm sorry."

"It's no problem." He paused and tentatively posed a repetition ofthe question he'd asked before. For some reason, her opinion of him seemed to be the most pressing issue of the moment. "You think I still have a big ego?"

"Perry, you're never going to lose that. It's how you carry that chip on your shoulder that makes the difference, and I think you're doing a good job of that. You have your moments, but you're not…hmm…what's the word I'm looking for?"

"Annoying?"

"No, the word I was looking for was sickening. You can be annoying when you whine."

"I don't whine!"

"You're doing it now."

"Am not!"

"Stop whining."

"You're being annoying."

"And you're still whining."

"Yo, shut up."

"This is my house, I say who shuts up and who doesn't. And I say you should shut up."

It was the mock defiant look on her face that did it. He'd sworn not to touch her again if touching her was going to do those things to his body, but he couldn't help it. She was just so damn cute. His hands reached for her waist and before he'd even touched her she danced just out of his reach, laughing already. Making another grab for her and caught her, making her fall onto the floor in the process. "DANGER!" flashed in bright red letters in his mind, but he couldn't stop himself from straddling her on the floor, squeezing her hips firmly with his knees. He began tickling her mercilessly.

"Take it back."

"Never!" she screamed between peals of laughter. "Never, never, never!"

Something primal took over him as he watched her writhing and laughing, face flushed and tank top exposing her toned stomach. It's those laps she runs around the neighborhood; maybe I should join her sometime. Later, he would swear it wasn't actually him who did it…it was just an inexplicable, irrational urge. All he knew at the moment, though, was that Cady's tank top wasn't exposing half as much skin as it should. Still tickling her with his left hand, his right hand moved up her hip to her waist in more of a caress than anything else and began toying with the hemline of her top.

Not quite distracted by the continuing tickling coming from his left hand, Cady's eyes rounded in questioning and she stopped laughing as she followed his gaze to the movement of her shirt upwards. Caught, Perry unabashedly looked into her eyes with heat and began inching closer to her face. And as if she had been frozen from head to toe, Cady was left to stare mutely as he came closer and closer into focus. Suddenly, something in his expression changed…it seemed as if he was slowly falling out of a trance. Breathing hard, he hesitated within six inches of letting his lips brush against hers. He looked at her as if asking permission; she was still contemplating her silent answer when her cell phone rang.

Snapping out of it, a wide smile graced her face and she easily pushed Perry off of her. "Dame!"

"What?" Perry shook his head in confusion.

But she didn't answer him, she was happily chattering away on the phone with her boyfriend. Perry rolled his eyes and flopped back on the couch, resting his head on his fist. What the hell did he have to go and do that for? He just ruined the balance. Knowing Cady, she'd most likely attempt to pretend as if nothing had even happened. She'd go on about her daily business, and eventually she would convince herself that nothing had happened. Sure, she'd remember, but she wouldn't feel it. He, on the other hand, would feel it every night before he went to bed, every morning when he woke up, every time he saw her smile and every time he saw her get into Damien Cross's car. Especially then. His eyes settled on the television screen without even really paying attention to what was on. Cady was still talking on the phone, but she'd moved away to another area of the basement. I guess I'm old enough to entertain myself, then. He didn't want to hear any of their love-talk anyway, if that's what it was.

He had to get back with Madison. The slightly guilty feeling that he was using her as a distraction crossed his mind, but he figured that was better than kissing his best friend. Agh! What am I doing with my life? Girls just seemed to be complicating everything at the moment. Maybe it would be better if he just went to prom alone. Fuck that. He would get back together with Madison, they'd go to prom together, look damn fine together, they'd all graduate and then they'd go their separate ways. Good God. He had successfully complicated something so simple. Paris Montgomery and Cadence Carrington were and will always be, best friends. That's all.

Perry craned his head to see if she'd come back from wherever she was talking to Damien and heard her laugh. He scowled deeply. Can I get a little hospitality? He glared at the TV screen again, pressing the remote buttons with venom. Cady's voice filtered into his hearing; he guessed she was walking closer.

"Dame, I can't believe you got a bike! God, I can't wait for this snow to melt―"

"―You have to let me ride it."

Bad, bad, BAD mental images. Stop it, stop it, stop it.

"―You know danger doesn't stop me."

Since when? The last dangerous thing I remember Cady doing was making me crack open a bee hive to see how many could fit when we were twelve.

"―C'mon, babe. You know you're gonna let me. You can't say no to me."

I don't even want to follow that thought.

"―Can't."

Is there a dude she isn't playful with? Damn!

"―See there? The first warm, ice-free day we have you're gonna let me ride."

When did she learn to make her voice sound like that?

Perry jangled his leg in agitation. Perhaps it was a bad idea to stay here after he'd gone and created that awkward moment (two of them, in fact). He checked his watch; it was about 7:00. His mom would have dinner already set out by now. It was the perfect excuse for making a hasty retreat.

"―Alright, babe. Bye."

He watched as Cady walked uncertainly back into the TV room and decided to spare her the pressure of making the first comment.

Coughing self-consciously, he spoke. "Um, I didn't realize how much time had gone by. It's dinner time."

"I think we have some spaghetti left…"

"Nah, nah, I shouldn't be eating up your food. My mom makes more than enough. I should be heading home."

"Well, um, okay then."

"Yeah."

"So, I'll see you in school…when it gets back in session."

"Yeah."

"Um…where'd you leave your boots?"

"The laundry room."

"Want me to go―"

"No, that's okay…I'll leave out the front."

"Kay."

There was a long pause where they looked at each other, both silently thinking about what might've happened if Damien hadn't called, and then they made their way upstairs. Cadence busied herself with rinsing out the mugs and putting them in the dishwasher while Perry put his boots back on. For her, he couldn't get out of her house fast enough. What had begun as a relaxing afternoon with a friend had caused her world to spin faster than she could handle. She wasn't sure what his actions implied…and definitely didn't want to think about it with him there. For now, the further away form her, the better. Just her luck, her father decided to take now to venture out of his home office to talk to Perry.

"Perry? Well, I'll be," her father smiled widely, giving him the "black man" handshake. He took off his glasses, "boy it seems like just yesterday you and Cady were running around here half-crazy."

"Yeah," Perry smiled awkwardly.

"Dad," Cadence sighed with a look.

"It seems like you all grew up so fast. Every time I turn around there's some new milestone or something. I remember teaching Cady how to ride a bike…" he began to get a far off look in his eyes. Cadence knew he was thinking of when they were all one family. "So how's everything, P?"

"Good, everything's good."

"You decided where you're going to school?"

"I'm leaning towards College Park," Perry nodded. Cadence lowered her head, remembering how she'd unjustly criticized his choice.

"Good, good…they could do some things with you."

"I hope so."

Her father smiled once more. For someone whose wife had left him not too long go, her father always seemed to be jovial. Maybe mom wasn't good for him after all.

"School work is going fine too?"

Perry hesitated.

"Aaah," he father rumbled. "Senioritis! I remember it well. You just hang in there; it'll be over soon enough."

"Oh, I will."

"Alright, P. Tell your mom and dad I said hey," her father said with a wave, shuffling back into his office.

I thought he'd never leave. She lead the way to the front door.

"Um, so yeah…" she trailed off, looking at the floor.

"Yeah…" he repeated.

"I'll be seeing you."

"Yeah."

"Peace."

"Bye."

After closing the door behind him, she fell against it with a heavy sigh. She didn't want to spend any time thinking about what could've happened in Damien hadn't called. If Damien ever found out how close Perry had been to her and in what way…he'd go ballistic. He could be possessive sometimes, but she didn't mind. She only had eyes for him and she knew it went both ways. Perry had almost crossed a line that she had forgotten existed. Ever since she'd been with Damien she'd forgotten that she'd once looked at Perry in that way. The question unsettling her, however, was: how would she forget that he'd looked at her that way as well?