Shockingly, May wordlessly cooked breakfast for Noah. The scrambled eggs and toast on his plate were identical to hers, though the eggs seemed a little runnier. Hayden had a slight suspicion that this was all routine to the older woman with her lips pulled tight and her short, "Here," once placing the plate in front of him. She didn't make a snide remark, and Noah gave a cordial, "Thanks."

They were putting on a show for Will, Hayden realized. He probably had no idea the two couldn't stand each other. Hayden didn't know whether to marvel at their realistic performance, or snap her fingers in front of Will's face to wake him up. Despite their act, the tension hadn't lessened, and she could imagine thinking the two liked each other.

Hayden brushed it all aside and focused on finishing her food. She wasn't really that hungry, but it was better than watching May stare almost pityingly at her, as though she had just jumped off a cliff, laughing.

Noah was seated next to her, and his knee kept brushing along hers, making her resolute to focus on her meal all the more difficult to do. His smirk hinted that he was all too aware of how he was affecting her. Hayden just lowered her face further down, her hair making a short curtain around her.

"—and I told him that we'd help." Will was saying, systematically drinking from his coffee cup May had just finished filling.

Will's wife finally put another plate down on the other side of the bar facing the other three and gingerly pushed small spoonfuls of eggs into her mouth while listening to the conversation with barely concealed boredom. Hayden just stared at her plate and pushed around the small crumbs left over.

"When is this, again?" Noah asked, still bumping her knee hypnotically.

"Next Tuesday; I'll excuse you from school," Will replied, adjusting his glasses. "Greg and Lauren need all the help they can get. It's not the easiest thing to move out of a house in the span on a day. They'll need all the help they can get."

"As long as you call in for me," Noah nodded. "I still don't understand why you won't sign me on as my own guardian so I can excuse myself. I did turn eighteen four months ago, you know?"

"You've proven a few times that you don't need to be excused to skip class," May spoke, her tone amused and filled with adoration, though it couldn't have been more clear to Hayden that it was all mockery. Her eyes flashed, and her smile was too sweet, and her jaw was clenched. Noah noticed as well, though he probably didn't need the visual aid; he could have picked up on the ridicule just by her tone.

Will looked up from his once-more opened newspaper with a quirked eyebrow. Hayden blinked and for a moment, she could have sworn he, too, picked up on the tension. He was quick to diminish the possibility, though, when he opened his mouth and asked May, "Aunt Judy's birthday is on the 29th, right?"

May broke the staring contest she was part of with Noah to look at her husband. "28th; her party is on the 29th."

Will nodded, "We'll need to buy Tammy a new dress. All she has are summer ones." Then, he threw a glance over at Noah before going back to his paper, "You're going."

Noah's mouth was readily in action, "I'm not going. I've got plans that whole week. Besides, she's not even related to me."

"Through marriage, she is. You're going," May said before taking a sip of her juice. "Judy's looking forward to seeing you again."

"Funny, the only time I met her, she was drunk enough to kiss the groom," he looked pointedly over at Will. "And drunk enough to strip for Uncle Ted." He grinned cheekily over at May, "I'm surprised she can remember anything from that night, let alone me."

Hayden took it upon herself—rather bravely, she thought—to cut in. With a small voice, she said as she stood from her seat, "I'd better go check on my clothes."

Her presence was suddenly remembered. May's flushed face gradually returned to normal; Will looked up for a moment from his newspaper to smile warmly at her; Noah turned to her and smiled wider than his brother.

"I'll take your dishes," May said, already moving to stand.

"Oh," Hayden said, grabbing her plates, "I'll get them. Thanks for breakfast; it was delicious."

May smiled slightly at her and Hayden placed the dishes in the sink before walking at a brisk pace out of the room. Only then did she breath deeply, and roll her shoulders to ease off the tension.


Dressed comfortably in her warm, clean clothes, Hayden gathered her stuff after paying Tammy Lee a visit to say goodbye. Now, she was left to wonder if she would be walking home, or if one of the three adults in the house was planning on driving her home. She took a peak outside and cringed. It may have been a beautiful sight, but there was no doubt in her mind that the cold would be unbearable should she walk the few blocks to her house. Her feet would be ice by the time she reached the end of their street.

Licking her lips, she grabbed her backpack and purposely strode out of the room in search of Noah. If they were dating now, she shouldn't be intimidated by him. She should feel unashamed to ask him for a favor.

Remembering where his room was, she approached it. Muffled rock music played behind his door, which was rattling slightly from the intensity of bass coming from his speakers. Plastering a pleasant grin on her face, she knocked, her heart thumping wildly in anticipation—which she realized wasn't an unfamiliar feeling concerning Noah.

The volume of the marriage softened, and within moments, an irritated-looking Noah opened the door. His aggravation was quick to dissolve once he met her eyes, though, and his face brightened considerably.

"Hey sweetie," he greeted her easily.

Hayden blushed at the nickname, but was incredibly pleased nevertheless. "Hi," she responded, and then hesitated.

Noah picked up on it in an instant. He opened his door further and motioned her to come in. "What's up?" he asked.

She waved away his nonverbal request and said shyly, "I was wondering if you'd take me home…it's…well, it's…" she gestured towards his shut window to the winter wonderland outside.

He turned and glanced back, then smiled her way again. "Sure," he answered. "I gotta change…I'll be out in a minute." He paused, looking back into his room, then back at her with a glint in his eyes. "Unless you'd like to join me in here?" He wriggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Hayden turned red and smacked him on the arm lightly before walking away.

A few minutes later, Noah walked back out to the living room dressed more appropriately and warmer. Going for the closet, he put on his coat, gloves, and hat before turning to Hayden, who had slowly risen from her seat on the couch.

"Got everything?" he asked.

"Yeah. It's all in here," she answered, holding up her backpack.

"Did they pay you, yet?" He pulled on his gloves.

"Y—," Hayden stopped, then shook her head. "No."

Noah nodded. "I'll be right back."

While he was gone, Hayden pulled on her own coat and accessories, glancing out the window again. It had started to snow lightly once more, but it wasn't as intimidating as last night's storm had been.

"Sorry, Hayden," Will's voice pulled her back into the room. She turned and watched as he hurriedly made for his coat pocket and pulled out his wallet. Noah walked casually into the room. "I thought May had already paid you; she's been preoccupied with Tammy this morning."

"Oh, that's okay," she responded, shuffling her feet inconspicuously. Will handed her a few bills and smiled at her. She looked down at it, and blinked. It was a lot more than she expected, even in her silent rant the night before when the initial shock of Tammy's disability was still strong. She'd be able to buy a nice dress at the mall for the dance with it, and still have some left over.

"Thanks for helping us out. It's really hard to get a babysitter for Tammy; most people are intimidated by the fact that she's mute," he explained.

Hayden just smiled and quietly said a, "Thanks," for the money.

"I'm going to drive her home," Noah said, holding up his car keys as if to confirm his statement. "I'll be back soon."

"Be careful," warned Will. "The roads are still pretty icy."

Noah nodded and jerked his head towards the door with his eyes on Hayden. They left in Noah's car, Hayden in the passenger seat marveling at how long of an evening the night before seemed.


The next week at school seemed like a surreal time for Hayden. Most kids accepted her and Noah as a couple with genuine happiness; and those who didn't had kept their opinion to themselves, though there was the occasional glare in her direction when she wasn't in Noah's presence.

Mary Anne and her small supporters and friends were passive-aggressive about their objections. New rumors began circulating around about Hayden, and while they were quite offensive, albeit rather routine, the sting in the rumors didn't bother her all that much as they would have a week ago.

What surprised her most of all, though, was the welcome she got from his friends. All—everyone single one of them—received her warmly. She ate lunch at Noah's table and gradually opened up to have one-on-one conversations with people other than Noah. They even greeted her in the halls when she wasn't with Noah. It was like she was a completely different person. Hayden felt like royalty.

Classes seemed an even sweeter state than lunchtime, though. Noah walked to her nearly every class she had, and carried her books in the process. Hayden found it difficult to concentrate on anything other than her anticipation to see him hunched casually outside her classroom doors. She was always eager to see his face break out into that handsome grin when their eyes met. For once, she felt like a giggling teenager. It was a different experience, and she couldn't imagine anything else making her happier. She found her place at the school, finally.

By the time Thursday rolled around, she walked in to the school, already set in a routine to meet up with Noah by her locker. She clumsily fumbled with her backpack, searching for her English notebook as she absently walked along the crowded halls. Hayden had an assignment due that morning, and she'd been so caught up last night on the phone with Noah that she hadn't had a chance to look it over.

Pushing her hair out of her eyes, she smiled lightly in satisfaction and pulled out the purple, battered notebook and flipped it open to the correct page. Taking a moment to hold it against her and grabbing her bottle of juice out of her bag before situating it on her shoulder once more, Hayden took a hearty gulp and focused on the pages of her writing.

Hayden turned a corner and weaved through more students. Knowing her locker was approaching, she looked up from her notebook, a smile brightening up her expectant face. Her grin fell slightly; Noah wasn't at her locker like she anticipated. Inwardly shrugging, Hayden opened her locker and retrieved all the books she'd need before her next trip.

The warning bell sounded, and Hayden made her way to her first class, finishing up the last of her drink.


A frown marred her face.

"—due tomorrow. And I expect everyone to be here!" the teacher was shouting over the bustling students. Hayden walked out of the class, turning to look around. Missing, just like he'd been all day. School was out for the day, and Noah was no where to be seen. Lunch had been an awkward ordeal with Hayden seated in the midst of his friends, meekly chewing on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

"Maybe he's sick," she mumbled to herself in concern. She reached down to her bag and pulled out her cell phone. The school wasn't really strict about the rules of using a cell phone on campus, so she wasn't too worried about getting caught. Hayden had already witnessed more than half the faculty using a cell phone this semester.

Her fingers flew deftly over the touch tones. Noah's number was cemented into her mind. Flowing along with the other students, Hayden brought the phone up to her ear and turned a few corners to walk closer and closer towards the exit. She had all the books she needed for the day, so a trip to her locker wasn't in store.

The ring tone sounded again and again. Hayden's frown deepened. Noah always answered his phone calls.

Hayden moved to situate her bag's strap more comfortably on her shoulder. Someone to the right of her bumped her side. Hayden absently looked over and blinked in slight shock. Mary Anne walked along side her, glaring hatefully towards Hayden.

"Bitch," she spat before pushing her way towards another hall.

Hayden, phone still to her ear, turned around once more to stare at the back of the guy in front of her. "Charming," she mumbled, her attention quickly drifting towards the ringing tone again. A small quirk pulled at her lips for a split-second. Noah was rubbing off on her.

The majority of the crowd turned to the right, coming closer to the west exit. Hayden obediently followed along. A second later, however, she stopped short. A few people behind her knocked in to her, and more than a few grumbled loudly as they moved around her. Hayden didn't hear or take into account any of their actions or words. Her breath stopped, as well as her heart.

Oh God.

He must have been avoiding her all day long, because there was Noah, propped up against one of the lockers. His lips seemed to be glued together with Erin Blaze, a pretty, blonde senior like himself. Hayden stared, her limbs limp at her sides, her mouth slightly open. For a fleeting moment, she thought Erin might have attacked him; he was a victim. But the thought quickly died. Noah seemed to genuinely enjoy himself. His hand was running through her long hair, pushing some of it behind her ears. Hayden unconsciously mirrored that action with her own hair.

Finally, the two broke apart. By then, they and Hayden had attracted a fair amount of attention from passersby. As though knowing she was standing there, Noah's eyes quickly moved to meet hers. No trace of guilt marred his features. He seemed, if anything, perfectly comfortable and casual.

She backed up a few steps, ready to make a break towards the exit, but he was already in motion and had her gently, but firmly, by her forearm. Silently, ignoring the crowd around them, he pulled her into the nearest empty classroom and closed the door. He let her go before she had a chance to pull away. When he did let her go, Hayden quietly backed away, in a daze and doing everything she could to not meet his eye. Despite it all, Hayden felt sheepish and awkward about the entire ordeal. She'd just caught Noah cheating on her, and even so, she wished she hadn't.

The whole thing seemed even more surreal than her week. Hayden felt detached from everything. Like she was a moviegoer watching this entire drama play out before her on the big screen. This wasn't her life. Her life was plain, boring, and completely uneventful. She had no drama, save for bullies.

After a few moments of silence, Noah sighed in exasperation. His eyes hadn't left her since he pulled her into the room. He stood in front of the door, just in case she tried to escape. This was something that had to happen, be it uncomfortable for both of them or not.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" he finally asked, pushing his hands into his pockets.

Hayden forced herself to look up at him. "Why'd you do it?"

Part of her knew she could answer the question herself; Jamie and she had discussed this last Friday night.

Noah nodded, staring and kicking something at his feet for a split-second before glancing up at her again. "Hayden, this week was great. I just…I thought I felt something for you, and it turns out…I don't."

Hayden blinked, her eyes a little wetter than before. She never thought dating would hurt this much. Her gaze, which she focused towards one of the classroom windows, hardened. She swallowed and gently demanded, "How could you do this, Noah? That night…you told me you've liked me for months…how could you treat someone like this?"

"I'm gonna be honest, Hayden," he said in his annoying flippant tone. His voice intrigued her and drew her eyes to him again. "Almost everything that happened that night was bullshit." He let out a short laugh and shrugged. Her eyes widened; how could he be so relaxed about this?

"What?" she snapped, finally finding a strong voice. Her hands turned to tight fists at her sides.

"Yeah, pretty much everything," he chuckled quietly. He shrugged again and said wryly, "Maybe I should major in drama, eh?"

Hayden bristled, at a complete loss of words.

"Oh," he mused, picking an invisible piece of lint off his arm sleeve. "And I hope you didn't buy a dress for the Winter formal yet. I already asked her; Erin said she didn't want to share a date with you." He paused and said in a mocking tone, "Sorry."

Hayden strode over to him, quivering with restrained rage. Something in his expression changed for a moment. He looked as though he was challenging her. Hayden didn't think too much on it, and stopped for a moment in front of him.

She stared at him for a second before whispering, "Bastard." She shoved him enough so she could force herself out of the room and almost run out to her car.


By the time she reached her home, Hayden had a fair amount of tears trailing down her face. She pulled into her driveway and killed the engine, trying to level her breathing. Noah caused her to break into hysterics the second she got into her car at school, and she still couldn't calm herself down.

Hitting the steering wheel a few times, Hayden checked the time, then the cars around the house. Greg was home, but her mother wasn't. Rachel told her that morning that she'd be working a late-night shift, so Hayden wasn't expecting to see her until tomorrow afternoon.

Not wanting to explain her tears to Greg, Hayden grabbed her bag and raced into the house. Greg was watching TV, and Hayden was halfway up the stairs before he said anything.

"How was school, Hayden?"

"Ah, fine," she called back down, cringing when her voice broke. She rushed into her room and shut the door. Then, she dropped her bag and broke down.

Hayden wasn't an emotional person normally, but try as she might, she couldn't hold back the sobs that sprang forth. Pulling her knees up to her chest, Hayden absently reached for the teddy bear Ally had given her before she left for the States. She hugged it against her, mumbling incoherent curses to the empty room.

How could she have been so stupid? The last week had been too perfect to be real. She should have known better. Jamie had told her straight up how Noah was, but Hayden didn't want to believe it. Noah played the part as a knight in shining armor all too well, and he easily made her feel like a princess. But she should have known.

Gradually, her cries subsided. She was immensely relieved that Greg hadn't heard her break down, or if he had, he didn't try to approach her. Instinctively, she reached into her bag and pulled out her cell phone—she didn't even remember putting it away—and made to dial Jamie's number. Before she pressed the 'Send' button, though, she paused. Jamie would tell her mother, or worse, Jeff, about what happened. She really didn't want this spread around, even if it was family. If she called her sister now, Hayden wasn't sure she trusted herself to keep calm.

Hayden put her phone away, deciding she'd wait until Jamie arrived with Jeff in a few days. She'd talk to her then. Maybe she'd even tell Jeff, too. But she needed to compose herself before then, or Jeff would do something stupid to Noah.

She settled on homework for the time being. If she could just get her mind off of Noah and the way his arms were wrapped around Erin Blaze, then maybe she could get a rational grasp on everything. She had semester exams coming up, and the last thing she needed was to loose focus. Hayden needed to study.

She attempted to keep her attention on school work for fifteen minutes before realizing it was a futile process. The anger she felt was too great. Turning away from her desk, Hayden glared over at the sky blue formal gown she'd purchased two nights ago. The receipt was still tucked away in her purse; it had taken all the money she received from the Leite's to buy it, but she figured it was well worth it. Now, it only added to the salt rubbing in her wounds.

She let the thought of returning it play through her mind. It'd be the easiest thing to do, really. Noah and Erin would be there, and Hayden didn't fancy another glimpse of them sucking each other's faces.

Then again, avoiding the dance while she already made all her plans was something she characteristically would do. Hayden turned back around in her seat and stared hard at the blank sheet of paper before her. She always retreated when things got hard. Always. She avoided confrontation, even if it did mean stepping on her own toes in the process. She'd jump on one foot for an entire day if it meant someone wouldn't embarrass her. But they always did, in the end. She was always somebody's morbid form of entertainment, all because she tried so desperately not to be.

The sheet of paper crumpled in her fist.

It was settled. She was going to the dance, with or without Noah. And she was going to look nice. She'd explain everything rationally to Jamie when she came back this weekend. Then, she'd enlist her sister's help to make herself look pretty and confident for the dance.


Surprisingly, Hayden had gotten a full night's sleep the night before. She half-expected her night to be plagued by the image of Noah and Erin, but once she settled in to bed, Hayden fell right asleep and didn't wake up until the steady beep of her alarm clock sounded.

For the second time that week, Noah wasn't waiting at her locker, for which she was thankful. But, she was met by sympathetic stares all throughout her trip there. Hayden kept her head down, chewing on the inside of her cheek. She didn't want this, any of it. Some people even came up to her and told her she was so much better than Noah, that he didn't deserve her. If anything, this whole ordeal informed her just how many supporters Mary Anne really had in this school…a lot less than it appeared to Hayden. Most of the kids weren't as terrible she thought. Some girls even came up and gave her a hug.

Hayden was shaking with surprise as the day neared an end. Only a handful of kids made some unfavorable remarks, and even then it wasn't directly to her face.

She was just in shock. And she missed Noah. It hadn't taken long, but she had become attached to their daily routine. During lunch, she meandered back to her usual table in solitude, thankful that she never had been in clear view of Noah's table. She walked to her classes by herself, holding her own books. She spent all of her time in classes torturing herself about yesterday. After lunch, Hayden walked down the hall, and caught a glimpse of Erin Blaze standing near her locker talking to another girl. Hayden had quickly vanished into the nearest bathroom.

Now, just like the day before, Hayden hadn't seen Noah once during the day. School was out, and she made a stop at her locker before numbly walking along towards the exit, a large textbook that didn't fit in her bag in her hand. So far, her trip to her car had been a lot less down-hearting than yesterday. She even made it outside; her car was in perfect view now.

She'd been so caught up in her own little world, that she didn't even notice someone in front of her until her textbook hit the ground with a muffled thump. Reflexively, she bent down and retrieved it. Hayden then looked up to find herself in front of Mary Anne. She blinked twice. The other girl was backed up by her friends, and all were glaring daggers at Hayden.

Hayden licked her lips and cleared her throat quietly and uneasily. Her discomfort only seemed to give Mary Anne confidence.

"So, Haystack, we heard Noah Vaughan dumped you." Mary Anne's voice was lithe and ultra-feminine. She was apart of the city choir and ironically headed her church choir. She was talented with her voice, and no matter how biting her words were she could make the tone she used as sweet as honey.

Hayden moved her shoulder strap a little and kept silent.

One of the girls behind Mary Anne spoke up loudly, "Don't ignore her, bitch." Mary Anne smirked smugly.

"We heard he cheated on you," Mary Anne said.

"I saw it; Erin Blaze," Chelsea Lincoln spoke up.

Mary Anne sighed, shrugging with a twinkle in her eye. "Can't say I blame him, though. A few days with you, and he seemed about ready to put a gun to his head."

"That's not true," Hayden whispered, her eyes welling.

The redhead's eyes glinted cruelly. "You know it is."

Hayden's eyes darted around in search of any member of faculty to help her out. Mary Anne kept going.

"What surprises me, Haystack, is that you really believed he liked you." The rapid beat of Hayden's heart filled her senses; Mary Anne's voice became background noise in the midst of another breakdown. "How could anyone like you?"

"You know how pissed you make her, Hayden?"

"—Ugly, despicable—,"

"God, she's so jealous of you."

"—eryone hates you—"

Noah was somewhere in the middle of her vision, watching everything happening with his friends.

"You're everything she's not."

"—naïve little twit—"

"Sweet, kind."

Her eyes met his. His eyebrow quirked, silently challenging her.

"—orld would be better off without y—"

"She's fake."

"—you're foolish—"

Hayden's hand curled into a fist.

"You're cute."

"You bitch!" Mary Anne finished with a scream.

Hayden's gaze snapped back to Mary Anne's. Her fist met the redhead's nose with a resounding smack that seemed to stop time in its tracks. Mary Anne was at Hayden's feet, screeching and clutching her nose in desperation; blood was seeping through the cracks of her fingers. Her friends were on their knees, nervously attempting to help her.

Everyone around them paused to watch the scene unfold with hungry interest. Some gasps sounded, and even more laughs began. Hayden's breaths came out in strangled pants. She felt liberated. Her mind was clear, and her confidence was dominating.

"Shut up," she demanded through clenched teeth, her voice shaky from her efforts to keep her tone restrained. For once, she was in control, with Mary Anne hunched on the dirty ground, and Hayden staring down at her.

She shook her head in disgust. "Just…shut up," she finished, walking around the heap of people, looking a few people boldly in the eye.

The last person she saw was Noah. As she walked past, they locked gazes. He winked, and turned back to watch Mary Anne. His trademark grin was back on his face and he laughed with the rest of the crowd as someone loudly insulted Mary Anne.

Hayden watched him for a few more seconds before turning back stare at her car as she drew closer to it.

A small smile was slowly growing on her face.

Fin


A/N: Wow. Okay, hi everyone. Sorry about the wait. The excuse is simply this: this chapter was hard to write, and it's much longer than my others. I hope you enjoyed it! I might, might, start to follow the trend and look for character pics to put up on my profile, so if that interests you, check it every twice and a while.

The sequel should be up soon, and I have to tell you as a fair warning that the updates with that one will be a little farther between as school will be starting up again soon for me. If I left anything unanswered, or didn't tie up any loose ends, drop me a note and I'll either update an author's note for everyone, or I'll edit it in.

Anyways, the sequel's title is Was I Out of My Mind so keep a look out.