My eyes narrowed instantly as I rolled over and sat up.

"Before you get mad at me, let me at least get out a few sentences first." He pleaded with both his hands up in defense.

"Like you've done so much to deserve it." I retorted.

He looked down, guilt marring his features. "No, I haven't." he said quietly. "I came to apologize – for not being there for you when I should have."

My mouth went to a grim line. "A little too late, isn't it?"

He nodded and ran a hand through his sandy blond hair. "I tried to tell you – about Jason, once." A faint smirk appeared on his lips. "I tried to tell you a lot of things, but I…I never had the courage. It got me very few places in life…" the last part seemed as though he were talking to himself more than me. "The day I phoned you to tell you, all you could do was gush about how happy you were and…I didn't want to ruin it."

My brows dipped in confusion. "Why are you telling me this now? Why at this moment? Why couldn't you have told me before I left – before any of this had happened?" My anger was slowly building, slowly gaining momentum.

"Ames –"

"No! You don't get to make up to me after all of the shit that's gone down! I am done trying to pretend that life is great – it's not! I hate everyone! I hate Jason! I hate you! I hate my mother because she won't let this go! I hate my job! I hate school! I just…" I choked and realized there were tears pent up behind my eyes and I was trying desperately to make them go away, like my problems. "I just want to start over."

A warm hand touched my shoulder. Eli looked apologetic, his lips spreading to a grim line. "I'm sorry for what he did to you." He spoke quietly, "But you'll never be able to start over unless you let Jason go."

My jaw clenched and tried hard to push all the emotions that his name dredged up at bay. I swallowed hard and blinked a few times.

I thought I'd been over all of this. I thought I'd gotten over it, that moving had made me get over it. All it seemed like now was that I had buried it as far as I could, but it was still there, still lurking beneath the surface. I couldn't seem to rid myself of it.

The tears pooled into my eyes and no amount of blinking was going to keep them from sliding down my cheeks. I had to escape. I didn't want to look weak in front of him. Quickly I muttered some kind of excuse and went to retreat.

Eli grabbed my arm. "Ami, don't."

I shook free of him easily and hurried to my bedroom, ducking past Adam and almost body checking him into the wall. Once there I leaned against the closed door and let the tears silently slip down and drip off my chin. They rushed and pooled and meandered down my face and stained my jeans, but I was okay with that.

A knock interrupted my tear fest. "Ames, you okay?" Eli's voice drifted through the door.

No. I was not okay. It felt like I would never be okay.

Wiping the streaks of salt water staining my face I pushed off of the door and went to my side table. Inside the top drawer, far in the back so no one could see, was a tiny plastic, bubble-like container with a yellow plastic lid, the kind you can get for a dollar in a toy dispenser. Slowly I sat down on my bed and stared at it, remembering.

We'd gone to Wal-Mart so I could help him buy groceries for tour – just another reason to be close to him before he left.

"What do you think?" I'd held up two packages of crackers – one with cheese, the other peanut butter.

He had been looking at granola bars – and glancing at a young woman a little ways down the aisle. "Um, you pick." He'd muttered with a careless shrug. Choices had never been his thing – which made sense now that I thought about it.

I'd glanced at both kinds. "Eli's allergic to peanut butter, so we'll go with cheese."

"Sure, babe." He'd smiled and tried to kiss me, but I turned so that he hit my cheek at the last minute. I hated it when he wanted to kiss in public because he would always turn them into full-on make-out sessions that very few people appreciated, including me.

I remember him rolling his eyes, but saying nothing, choosing instead to grab me by the waist and continue down the aisle. We'd gone back to normal, making fun of strange items we found on the shelves, choosing ridiculous outfits for each other, trying on shoes that we never intended to buy. By the time we went through the doors of the exit I'd smiled so much my cheeks were hurting.

Suddenly he'd stopped and smirked at me, turning to the toy dispenser at the exit and popping in four quarters. With one motion a plastic container with a yellow plastic lid popped out of the machine, and before I knew it he was whispering the words "Will you marry me?"

"Ami?" Eli called quietly, breaking me out of the past and into the present. Presently I sat on my bed in a sobbing mess of tears and weakness. I felt like a blubbering teenager, crying over a boy who hadn't asked her to prom. In my case he had asked me to prom – except he'd only asked me because he'd wanted in my pants. Jackass.

I tried to wipe the tears away, but they'd become too numerous to simply wipe all traces of. The flimsy ring, a gaudy, cheap metal thing with a fake blue stone inside, stared up at me in mockery from between my fingers. Eli sat down slowly next to me. The tears flowed, the pain oozed out the dam, and I felt I'd lost control. "Why did he have to…" I sobbed uncontrollably now. Never had I cried about him. He hadn't been worth my tears, hadn't deserved anything more after what he'd done.

Eli shushed me and wrapped his lean arms around my shaking frame. I tried to break free, but he only held on tighter, no matter how hard I resisted. He kissed the side of my head and rubbed my back soothingly.

I sniffed noisily after a long time and leaned against his shoulder. "I thought I was different, you know." I mused quietly."

"You are." Eli pulled back and looked at me with those big sea foam green eyes, thumbing away the rush of tears still trickling down my face. "I didn't come to see you out of pity, and I didn't come to fix you. I came because…" he glanced away then back into my eyes as if searching for the right words. "I came because I missed Ami – the one I used to know before some idiot ruined her life."

When I didn't say anything, his eyes moved down to my hands, still clutching the plastic container. He placed his hand over mine and carefully extracted it from my grasp, examining it carefully like a scientific specimen. Strange emotions flashed over his face before they settled for a grim, unhappy line on his face.

"I quit." He said finally, placing the ring back into its container and concentrating so hard on putting the lid back on that he didn't meet my gaze.

"W-What?" I didn't understand.

Finally his eyes met mine. "I quit the band," he said earnestly, glancing down at the container, "for this."

I blinked, my brows dipping in confusion. "But that band is your life. Why would you just…quit?"

He shrugged nonchalantly. "I needed to move on…and I met a guy named Matt Larson – biggest producer around right now. He listened to some of my solo stuff and wants to record…" he trailed and glanced around the room with another conceding shrug, "Plus, I…kind of broke my lead singer's nose."

I sniffed and let out a half-laugh and a half-gasp. "That was you?"

He smirked and nodded, staring straight at me as if his eyes were green laser beams. "He never deserved you, Ames." He said quietly. Slowly his fingers wound themselves around mine without my notice. "I'm sorry I never told you how much of a bastard he was. And I'm sorry I didn't quit sooner."

Glancing down I noticed the plastic container. I had to get rid of it. Slowly I turned to Eli with hopeful, but watery smile. "Want to burn it with me?"

He smirked. "How?"

Minutes later we sat on the fire escape outside my window with a long-handled barbeque lighter and a small mountain of wadded up paper placed underneath the ring. I was ready to see it burn, ready to remove it from the deep wound.

For a long moment I sat there staring at it, like a memorial of some kind.

Eli's fingers suddenly slipped through mine and he gave me an encouraging smile, the one that spoke more volume than words ever could. I was glad to know he was behind me on this one.

With a sigh I clicked the button and watch the flame flicker before catching on the paper and consuming it within minutes. The plastic smelled as it melted and morphed into a charred black wad.

Funny how a little object, a band of metal, had affected me even long after I had escaped from my problem. A tiny smile lifted the corner of my mouth as the last of the flames died down and left a pile of paper ashes and melted plastic. I could almost imagine not hating everything and everyone. I could imagine partying like I'd used to. I imagined hanging around Tonics, and not just to get drunk.

I turned to see Eli and his roguish grin, and the way his hair hung in his sparkling sea foam eyes only made me smile back. "Feel better?" he asked.

With a sigh I glanced back to the demolished ring. "Yeah."

"Good."

I locked eyes with him. "Yeah…" I imagined kissing him, those lips that held such a bewitching smile. I imagined cuddling under quilts and sitting on the fire escape to talk about his music career and my art career. I imagined watching horror films just to see him tense up so I could reassure him that it was just a movie – he hated horror. I imagined not hating him as much as I'd thought. I imagined not hating him at all. I imagined a lot of things as I stared at him and he stared back. I imagined him thinking the same thing as I – that was until Prince began singing.

I half-growled and stood up. "Who the hell plays Prince during a perfectly good fucking love scene!? Hey!" I yelled upward at whoever the hell was ruining my moment – maybe God. "What the hell is your problem? Turn that damn bloody crap off before I come up there and shoot you myself!" Fine, so the world wasn't rainbows and flowers, so what? I had a right to be angry. Prince had just ruined my –

Eli dissuaded me from my tirade with a kiss.

When he pulled back at my shocked expression, with his mischievous eyes glinting and his roguish smirk tilting across his face, I could only stare. "I've been waiting to do that a long time." He said quietly.

I stared at him some more, then tilted my head. "Hm," I mused. "I think I've changed my mind."

He searched my face and hesitated. "On what?" he looked to be bracing for some kind of letdown.

I shrugged innocently. "I still do hate you – just a little."

His face fell just a little because he wasn't sure if I was serious.

"It's okay though. You can make it up to me." With a smirk I grabbed his head and kissed him back.

Prince sang on.

He suddenly didn't seem so terrible.

In fact, I was even thinking that he wasn't so bad.

Maybe.

.end.

A/N: I've discovered I suffer from modesty topoi. Hope this felt as warm as that time in Mexico when you ate one too many burritos. There probably won't be too many updates on my other stories due to impending deadlines for school. Give it a week or so.

p.s. I thought I'd dangle some Matt/Brayden in front of you so I can watch you drool - I hope you appreciate that.

Comment, rant, rage - whatever. Just do it.