Chapter One:





I watched her as she jogged across the parking lot, a bright smile on her face and couldn't help the once that slipped onto my own face. Her brown hair fluttered around her shoulders as she moved and I thought– not for the first time– about what it would be like to tuck just one piece behind her ear.

I shook my head roughly as she breezed by me, barely sparing me a glance and mocked myself under my breath, feeling like a fool yet again.

"Man, sometimes I think you're psychotic!"

I looked up at the voice, not realizing that anyone had been around and my face lit up again. "Mark! I didn't know you were back!" I clapped the shorter man on his shoulder.

Mark smiled wryly. "Well I am, and apparently nothing has changed." He eyed the surroundings distastefully and paused when his eyes found his way back to my own.

I shrugged helplessly. "What can I say?"

"You can say, very loudly and self-assuredly: Mark, you're right. Emmy Walters is not the girl for me!"

I scoffed. "I don't know that she isn't! And until I know for sure I don't think I can just forget about her." I turned and headed towards the front doors of the large, sprawling building before me.

"Oh come on Gage! Look at yourself! How can you delude yourself, day after day, thinking that Emmy Walters, the most glamorous thing to hit Leesville since the can-opener, will ever look at you as dating material?"

I didn't get a chance to respond as a small, blurry form leapt onto Mark's back, clinging ape-like to him and screeching loudly. I laughed out loud as Mark looked quickly around, noticing the attention we were drawing and trying to dislodge the thing from his back.

"Alyssa! Cut it out! You're making a scene! Get off me!" He was moving in awkward circles, flailing his arms in a desperate attempt to get the cling-on off of his back and growing steadily more agitated as he continued to fail.

Finally, when Alyssa had ceased screeching, and Mark had finally given up trying to get her off, she slid from his back and shot me a grin. I was still trying helplessly to catch my breath, but was subject to another fit of laughter when I saw Mark's pink face as he stared at his shoes and tried to melt into the pavement.

"Not the sophisticated entrance you were planning was it?" I asked between laughs.

Mark just grunted in response, but he couldn't keep a small smile off of his lips as Alyssa wedged her hand into his and hooked her arm with mine. Propelling us towards our goal of the front doors.

"Mark, you sneaky, scheming son of a muskrat! Thinking you could get by me without saying hello." She blew her loose hair out of her face before continuing. "Well I showed you didn't I? Yeah. That'll teach you never to avoid me ever again!" She smiled devilishly at him and he chucked her chin affectionately.

"Never again 'Lys, never. I swear."

She chuckled. "You better remember it or next time will be much, much worse. Now what's this I heard about can-openers and dating? I can only assume we're talking about one beautiful brunette?"

Mark nodded and I resisted craning my head over my shoulder as we entered the school. "You would assume correctly," Mark muttered. "I caught nimrod over here floating once again in la-la land, fantasizing about roly-poly brunette babies."

I scoffed at him. "I was neither in la-la land or dreaming about babies you freak," I argued petulantly.

"Sure you weren't," Alyssa added chuckling as she fought to open her locker. I leaned against the row of metal cubbyholes, my eyes half closed as Mark continued on.

"Wherever he was, Emmy was around somewhere close. I told him for what has to be the thousandth time that he's paddling upstream, without a paddle, wind blowing in his face, in a holey canoe when it comes to her but he refuses to listen!" Mark addressed me again. "Come on Gage, look at her." He nudged me roughly and I opened my eyes to see her passing with a group of her friends, smiling, laughing, glowing. "She's the Duchess to your peasant, the heiress to your cowboy, the privileged daughter to your sad little farm-boy. When are you going to wake up and smell the roses?"

"Now, now," Alyssa cut in. "There's no need to be so brutal Mark. You've only been telling him this for years. Just because you're back from your whatchamacallit wherever you were this summer doesn't mean you are suddenly god. Don't make you pull you down this hallway by your ear boy," she threatened.

"It was an internship in Chicago Alyssa. It was very important and very helpful! I networked!" He was following her as she took off down the hall and I chuckled as I trailed after them myself.

Mark was right about my 'sad little farm boy' if nothing else. Emmy wasn't exactly what Mark made her out to be, she had her ups and her downs just like everyone else, and she wasn't as much of a perfect golden girl as he thought she was.

I caught a full burst of laughter as we passed the cafeteria and looked in through the glass wall. Emmy was sitting on a guy's lap, her hands ruffling his hair goofily as she laughed as something one of the many people around her had said. She caught my eye as I walked past and raised a hand in greeting. I jerked my head in a hello and kept right on.

Emmy Walters was the only girl I'd ever wanted and she probably would be until the day I died. I laughed at myself for the millionth time since I'd met her and hurried to catch up with my friends, ducking into class just as the bell rang.

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I was the first one out the door as the final bell of the day rang, letting go of my held breath as I escaped the confines of my most hated class: Math. I wasn't looking where I was going and realized it only when I crashed heavily into someone. I raised my head to find myself looking directly into the shocked face of the town's wonderboy James Thomas. When he saw me his face turned into a fierce scowl.

"Hey, watch it Jobson!"

I backpedaled a step or two, readying an apology on my lips. "Sorry," I started but he brushed me off.

"Yeah whatever, just watch where you're going next-time." He scoffed and continued on with his friends. I shook my head at him as he turned down another hall and continued on my way.

I exited the side of the school, inhaling the scent of the coming fall and smiled, making my way to the parking lot. I paused as I tossed my backpack into the bed of my beat-up old pick-up and scanned an eye over the parking lot noticing that it was practically empty, even so soon after school had ended. I shrugged and climbed in, turning the key and hearing the engine battle, but finally turn over.

I was about to turn out of the lot when I spotted a familiar figure sitting under one of the trees before the school, a book spread open on her knees. I leaned over and rolled down the passenger side window.

"Need a ride?" I shouted out to her.

Emmy looked up startled but smiled when she caught sight of me, standing and making her way to the truck. "Hey! I missed the bus," she said sheepishly as she climbed in. "I was planning on waiting for James to finish practice but as luck would have it..." she trailed off smiling. "My hero. Again."

I laughed. "Well it's not my fault I'm always conveniently available," I shrugged pulling out of the parking lot.

"So how've you been?" she asked, breaking the amiable silence a few minutes later. "I haven't seen you in a while."

I shrugged non-committally. "I haven't been too bad, no worse than usual. What about yourself? I've been hearing rumors about you and Thomas. Are congratulations in order?"

She laughed, loud and real and ran her fingers through her hair, pulling it from her face. "Congratulations? Not unless you're going to congratulate me on convincing him to try out for the team again this year." She sighed, amused. "Really, people never seem to tire of James and myself, but in all honesty there's nothing between James and I, and there hopefully never will be. You of all people should know that," she added, peering at me questioningly.

"Well you never know! Things happen, you two just seem to fit. Plus he seemed a little extra ticked when I ran into him– literally– just before."

"Hmm," she muttered thoughtfully. "Yeah I could imagine. The summer was... Things are just a little tough for him right now."

I nodded grimly, knowing some of what she meant.

"And what do you mean we just seem to 'fit'? Gage if you tell me you've bought into all that 'Oh you two look so good together'" she raised her voice mockingly "bullshit, then I'm going to have to leap out of this truck."

I chuckled. "I haven't, so stay in the car! But I have known you both for a very long time. You work well together, you just... fit," I repeated for lack of a better word.

"Yeah, we fit... But not the way you're thinking." She faded off into silence and I drove along silently, just happy with her presence beside me. I couldn't help the somewhat goofy grin that slid onto my face.

She smiled as she climbed out of my truck, resting her arms on the open window. "Thanks a lot Gage!" she said simply.

I smiled back. "Never a problem Em', you know that."

"So you always say." She backed away a step as I fired up the engine once more. "Don't be a stranger!" she called waving and I stuck a hand out my window in salute as I drove off.

I pulled into my driveway, scanning the yard for any evidence of my family and smiled as I realized that no one was home. I tossed my stuff in the house and quickly changed, then headed to the woodshed, opening the latched door and smiling when I was greeted with deep barking.

I was leapt upon by a dark shepherd and laughed as I scratched his ears, holding him back as he tried to lick my face. "Come on Mack!" I shouted as he took off for the field. "Chores first!" I headed towards the barn and clomped through checking water buckets. As I climbed the ladder to the hay-loft and pushed open the windows I caught the first steady hoof beats racing their way in and a friendly nicker. More came as the other three horses showed up and I talked gently as I tossed flakes of hay out into the pasture then made my own way down. I pushed through the horses, eating greedily and checked their outer water buckets. Finding everything okay I called loudly for Mack. He came bounding goofily around the side of the barn, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth. He barked gleefully as he watched me take off into the wide open field and had quickly caught up with me.

We wrestled playfully for a few minutes before I crossed the fence and headed into the woods, throwing sticks off into the underbrush for Mack. As I walked I thought about Emmy. We'd been neighbors for almost as long as I could remember, and for just as long, James Thomas had been connected to her at the hip. She was a nice girl, kind and caring, smart and friendly, intelligent too being able to put her smarts to use. We'd never been close friends, I'd always been the boy who admires from afar. She was the girl I could envision myself spending the rest of my life with yet it just didn't seem as though she was interested. Especially when she had guys like James Thomas hanging off her every word.

I shook my head at myself, painfully aware of how stupid I was being. Mark had never passed up an opportunity to tell me that I was fooling myself, and Alyssa just kept blissfully silent on the matter although I felt that she had the same opinion as Mark which didn't surprise me. As long as they'd known me I'd been pining after Emmy, and not just because she was beautiful, or because she was one of the most popular girls in school. No.

I pined after her because when her pet rabbit had died when she was nine she'd held a formal funeral. I pined because when Mrs. Cantly from further up the road had gotten cancer she'd gone to feed her precious Pekinese for her without having been asked. I pined because when we accidently came upon one another on those rare times when our paths crossed in the woods, she would smile widely and walk silently by my side until something else drew her attention and she'd go her own way once more. I pined for a thousand different reasons but they all added up to one thing.

I pined because I loved Emmy Walters.

A/N: Hello everyone who is floating out there in cyber space. This is something new I'm trying. Just a little fic to please myself, give me a boost of energy when I finish it however good or bad it may be. Reviews would be very greatly appreciated. I tried begging and I don't quite like it. Just keep in mind that I can see how many hits this story gets and will be very sad (maybe sad enough that I won't post more) if I see that there have been a ton of people reading and none reviewing.

At this moment in time I'm promising daily updates, one chapter at a time. But if I get reviews I might be soooo happy that I update 2 or even THREE chapters at a time! gasp


The March Hare