a/n: it is currently 2.11 in the morning of christmas day. finished a full nine hours of work at 7.30 and made a white chocolate cheesecake until eleven o'clock, at which time i took it out of the oven to discover it looked more like a cake with a jelly-fied middle. it is for christmas day tomorrow, my first contribution in the food-front. i'm scared to see how it'll go down with the family. --cringe-- but, good news, GREAT news, emery & me is now finished!! yay! finally! this chapter is way longer that i expected it to be, but, meh, it's done, the ending is as planned, so, whoo!

ok. i haven't read any of the reviews for the last chapter yet but as soon as i post this i'll read them. i swear i will, lol. so UBER THANKS to everyone who has ever review, will review, has read, will read, has lurked, will lurk now and in the future. you guys are so great and made what started as stupid, quasi-high school romance into an actualy stupid high school romance. heh. who knew i could do it?

and, on the last note, i'll be posting a new story (called Ruminating With Rudey) in the new year. and attempting to write more for dating donnie which is going through a dry patch. but i said i'd finished as long as i had writing-power (not in those exact words heh) and i'm gonna try to, alright??

so, thanks again, you guys are so bloody awesome. i hope to hear from you again! merry christmas, happy holidays, drunken new year fun, etc, etc. i'd offer you all a piece of my would-be cheesecake, but um, i'm afriad to go anywhere near it in case it explodes...or something equally dasterous...

over and out.



Sunlight was hot and heavy on my skin; it felt as though it was pulling it, up and away, towards the searing blue sky. Behind the school, I stood in the middle of the sport's field, staring at the out-of-bounds area. It was still blocked off with a heavy chain, from post to post, and a steel-link fence contained the over-grown trees inside. The agriculture farm was hardly used; mostly for junior Science classes who had nothing better to do. The keeper, Rolly—as everyone fondly called the small, round man—cared naught for trespassing students, as long as they didn't trample his gardens or startle the chickens.

I'd never been in there. Even in science class, we'd just never gone on an excursion to the old Ag. farm. Usually I'd just glance at it, subconsciously thinking of it as the smoker's hang-out or, more recently, Emery's hang-out. But today, having become restless in my study period, had decided to go for a walk around the school. It had brought me to the centre of the sport's field, standing on the bare cricket pitch, staring at the heavy chain barrier.

And something in me, some nameless compulsion, made me start walking towards it.

Grass cracked beneath my feet, still dry from summer, and I scuffed at the dirt patches. As I approached the shade of the fence and the trees, I glanced over my shoulder, scanning the hazy frame of the school buildings and the windows in the upper floor. Even if someone had watched my trek, I wouldn't know. Right at that moment, Mr. McKenzie could be powering through the hallways, having spied me out of his office window, intent on handing me a detention, suspension, expulsion…

And yet, even the thought of it, the thought of trouble, didn't stop me from ducking under the chain and walking slowly down the gravel path into the heart of the farm. It was…less than impressive. Of course, I hadn't expected much. It was bright, for there was a clearing in the middle of the farm, with a small slab-like building. It had a low roof that shaded a spread of wooden benches and tables. Walking slowly towards them, I glanced at the ground, not surprised to find the flattened stubs of scores of cigarettes, just spread into the gravel, trodden on by feet.

I stopped just before the shade of the building and looked directly up. The sun was white and immediately halos blazed across my vision. Blinking dazedly, I glanced down, and jerked in surprise.

Emery was sitting on one of the table tops, his feet on the lower bench. Elbows on knees, eyes half-hooded, he stared at me. I stared back. Finally, he asked quietly, "What are you doing here?"

What was I doing here? Could I really tell him that I just wanted to see the farm, to see where he hung out with his friends, where he went to suck on cancer-sticks? That I had come because I had hoped, secretly—dreadfully—that he'd be here?

So I just shrugged and murmured evasively, "Just because."

"That's not an answer," he said lowly.

"That's because I don't have an answer," I admitted, looking at him carefully.

He watched me, his eyes dark in the shadow of the building, and his hair a dull grey beneath his black beanie. With his right hand, Emery rubbed slowly at his jaw. "Why not?" he asked casually.

Shifting uneasily, I hesitated before taking a few steps forward. I was immediately drenched in shade; it felt as if I'd jumped in a pool of water. My sigh was one of relief, for sweat was already drying on the back of my neck. Emery watched, silently. I met his eyes, and bit my lip. "I, I don't know."

"Oh, come on, Bronwyn," he murmured lazily, "surely you have something to say?"

My heart was pattering in my chest, heavy and fast. I kept thinking of Amber, Amber crying and Amber yelling at me, Amber sitting on her bed, defeated, as she admitted that she'd thought she'd loved Emery. Thought she had, but didn't, not really. Not real love. Unconsciously, I'd taken another step closer. Emery's shadow was now touching my feet. "Not really," I answered just as softly, giving a half-smile that wasn't really a smile.

There was now intensity in Emery's eyes. A knowledge, almost; an expectation. I took another sliding step forward, bringing my knees close to the bench where his feet were propped; the wood brushed at my bare skin, scratching: warning. "Then," he said lowly, sliding his hands down his legs, "why are you here?"

Another step closer, another shaky exhalation of air. I'd told Amber that there was nothing between Emery and me; because there wasn't, there hadn't been. But…I needed something before I left it. I needed to see, even if it tortured me, what could have been…

Slowly, excruciatingly slow, Emery slid off the table, straightening his legs so they pressed against mine. In fact, most of him pressed against me; chest to chest, stomach to stomach. My breathing was shallow and I forced my eyes up, to stare into Emery's intent ocean gaze. His hands were suddenly cupping my elbows, a faint promise of a touch. Waiting for me.

With trembling fingers, I slipped my hands onto his sides, almost wincing when I felt the solidness of his skin, his body: him. I exhaled again, shaky, and bit my lip to quell the shivers. Emery's eyes immediately caught the action and his hands moved, gripping my arms, holding himself steady; as if he was going to fall. "I," I whispered, "I had to—to see—you," I finally said brokenly, swallowing, flushing, "I'm here…to see…you."

And that was all he needed.

Tilting his head down, tilting my head up, our breaths first touched; warm and tingling as they caressed our skin. And then, the touch; the softness of lips, foreign at first, strange. But then, familiar. Perfect. The kiss was small, tender; at the beginning. Emery's hands held tight at my elbows, tugging me closer, holding, anchoring. And my hands tightened on his sides, my fingers sinking in, creating grooves in the material of his shirt and in his skin. He gasped, and when his mouth was open, I deepened the kiss.

His groan turned us around, forced me back so I was leaning against the table's edge with Emery pressing closer, closer. His hands separated; one went up to rest at the back of my neck, pushing us harder together, and the other slid around my back, fingering my spine. Tingles exploded across my skin, forcing bumps up from below the surface.

Unthinkingly, I moved my hand and pushed his beanie away; and I sank my fingers into his tawny hair, feeling the slight dampness of sweat at the roots, but savouring the coolness. We parted, briefly, to breathe unsteadily. Emery's eyes were hooded, aquamarine darkened to blue in his haze, and I had to smile as I lent forward and pressed my mouth over his lip-ring, sucking it gently as his breath shuddered in my ear. And then we were kissing again, hard and fierce, and just as Emery's hand gripped my thigh and lifted my leg to hook it over his hip, there was a slight cough.

From neither of us.

We broke away, confused, and I looked distractedly over Emery's shoulder. There stood Mr. Connelly, the young Arts teacher, uncomfortably rubbing his brow. I looked at him, wondering, insanely, what he was doing here. And then it hit me and I wanted to die. Slowly, painfully…

"Ah hum," he cleared his throat again and Emery tried to be subtle with lowering my leg and stepping back, as if he hadn't just been caught red-handed.

His smile to me was slightly embarrassed but more amused, and he turned to the teacher with a, "Hey, sir, fancy seeing you here."

"Ah hum," went Mr. Connelly, and he wouldn't meet my eyes. Which I was immensely glad for, considering it felt like I would very likely spontaneously combust at any moment. It was a high possibility. "Mr. Jones," he cleared his throat again, and said, with a slightly quirked look to his lips, "Aren't you with her sister?"

My heart shuddered to a stop right about then, but Emery answered, "Um, no, sir. Amber and I broke up."

Mr. Connelly looked between us; from my red face to Emery's easy-smile. I straightened up, biting my lip furiously as I tried to smooth down my clothes. Finally, after he'd considered both of us, he said slowly, "It makes sense." My mouth opened, surprised, and he continued with, "But, you guys can't be doing that here. Especially in the out-of-bounds area. Come on, I'll let you off with a warning this time." He jerked his head and turned his back, signaling that we were meant to follow him.

I stood for a long moment, frozen, and I felt Emery watching me. When I looked up, his lips were twisted down and his eyes were full of some weary emotion. "It's not going to happen, is it?"

Silently, I shook my head, hating everything about that world in that very moment; the way the birds were singing in the trees, and the chorus the leaves made in the wind, and especially the way Emery looked at me, like he had come through a patch of barbed-wire and still survived. I expected him to swear, to demand just Why Not?, why couldn't we be together? But he just started shaking his head, eyes closed, and when he finally looked at me again, he was defeated.

"OK," he said in a low, toneless voice. "Whatever you want."

"It's just…"

Emery looked at me, smiled a sad, pitying sort of smile, and nodded. "I understand," he said.

And I knew he did, even if he didn't like it.



Mr. Connelly, the cool young teacher that he was, didn't tell any of the other members of faculty; or, my worst fear, the Principal. He kept giving me odd looks during Art class though, and I couldn't interpret any of them. But perhaps it had something to do with the fact that after Emery and I left the farm, we didn't spend anymore time together. We didn't meet at school, didn't speak at lunch or during breaks. We just…weren't.

As the days slid into weeks, the HSC began for the seniors. The High School Certificate exams were the major factor for university admittance, so most of their time was spent studying in the library or else meeting up with teachers, looking for hints. I hardly saw Amber, and though it echoed with those long months of distance between us, I knew it was a different kind of space.

One morning, a few weeks after Emery and I had parted—in a way—I was sitting at the breakfast table, idly stirring the soggy remains of my cereal. I was trying to find pictures in the floating bits of clumped oats. For a second I had a star, but it soon became a person with their arms out, and then it was once again an unidentifiable brown blob. Just as I sighed and stirred again, there was movement at the doorway, and I glanced up.

Amber moved slowly to the kitchen counter, carefully pulling a plate out of the cupboard and starting to untie the bread bag. I watched through lowered lashes, my fingers twitching with dreaded expectation, and when she glanced over her shoulder and met my eyes, my breath hitched. She smiled. "'morning," murmured Amber, "sleep well?"

"Yeah," I breathed, smiling in return. All was becoming well. It would be well, I just knew.

Things were still tense between us, like when I'd be listening to a specific song or reading a certain magazine, or even sometimes when we'd be both in the lounge room, watching something on television; I'd get the tickling feeling of being watched and glance over to find Amber staring at me with a face drawn with thoughtfulness. I wouldn't ask her what was wrong for fear of disrupting the unsteady peaceful normality we had, but it still nibbled at me, especially when it continued to happen.

"What about you?" I asked, lifting my eyebrows as I noted the weary lines around her mouth.

She shrugged tiredly, practically dropping into a chair across from me. "Eurgh," she said.

I almost laughed, but bit my tongue. "That nice, huh?"

Amber lifted her eyes, the corner of her mouth tilted up. "If that's what you'd call it."

Almost grinning, I shrugged. "Different people, different interpretations."

"Just you wait until next year," she told me, turning back to her carefully spread toast. "When you have your HSC, I bet you'll be running up the walls." She gave a funny sort of laugh; almost a snort, but I knew Amber couldn't possible snort. It was just something she did not do. "Well," Amber looked at me with a semi-smirk, "running up them even more than you do know."

"I don't run up walls," I laughed, and then added casually as I lifted a spoonful of lumpy cereal towards my mouth, "I don't have anti-gravitational superpowers."

Amber spluttered out a laugh. "What sort of superpowers do you have then?"

I lifted my brows and wiggled them suggestively. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

She rolled her eyes and as silence took hold, I was suddenly reminded of our unsteady ground. Our conversation had been one from Pre-Emery, back when things were fine and we talked like friends and sisters and allies. And it seemed by the tightness of Amber's mouth and the way she stared intently at her breakfast that she had remembered as well.

Sighing, I lowered the spoon back into my bowl.

It was times like these, when things became tense, that I missed Emery.

Even though I shouldn't, even though it was stupid.

But I still did.



School sucked. It really did. It sucked more than sunny summer days when you were stuck inside, sick and sweating with a headache and the shivers. It sucked more than wanting nothing more than sugar only to find the fridge and cupboards bare save for bland generic biscuits and a vegetable crisper full of browned cauliflowers and carrots. It sucked more than buying a new CD by your favourite artist only to hate all the songs on the album.

It sucked because I saw Emery wherever I went even though I wasn't looking.

It sucked because I saw him, everywhere, and I knew I couldn't touch him, couldn't speak to him, couldn't have him.

It sucked because it was my entire fault.



On a particularly glum day—the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and Emery had bumped into me outside my English room without even knowing it was me—I went straight home and hid in my room. I put on my favourite CD, the Bad Luck Clovers first album, and lay on my bed, staring at the ceiling.

I made a very sad picture, especially since the kids next door were out in their yard, splashing around in their swimming pool, screaming and laughing. I could hear them even through my closed bedroom window, and it was just making me all the more depressed.

As I saw Emery's face in the intricate coils of a spider's web suspended over my ceiling light, I said sardonically, "They have a word for this; I think it's…obsession. Yeah, that's it…"

Then I let out a rough grunt of a laugh.

Even talking to myself had lost its charm. And when that happened, there was usually need to panic; especially in my case.

My favourite song on the CD was on repeat; it was on its fourth playing when my bedroom door was opened forcefully and the music was abruptly stopped before I could turn my head.

"Bronwyn, this has to stop," demanded Amber, setting her hands on her hips. She stared at me with fierce blue eyes.

I blinked. "What has to stop?"

"Talk to him, hit him, just do something!"

"Him?" I frowned.

Amber rolled her pretty eyes and scowled. "Don't play dumb, Bronwyn. We both know why you've been listening to this CD for the last three hours non-stop, and it's not just to piss me off—that's just a nice bonus."

I stared.

She crossed her arms and glared at me. "It's for Emery. It's all for Emery."

Sitting up quickly, I blurted, "No, it's not," but Amber shushed me with a sharp flick of her hand.

"Shut up and listen," she demanded, and I shut up and listened. "I know you like him. I know he likes you. It's so obvious it's painful." Her eyes flashed and I knew she was talking literal pain, and guilt was heavy in my stomach. But before I could speak, Amber went on, unhindered. When she had something to say, she said it. No matter what. "He liked you when we were still going out; that's why he broke up with me. I get it—"

"No," I broke in quickly, rushing to say, "He told me you changed, that you weren't the same—"

Amber bared her teeth and cut her hand out at me, silencing me immediately. She met my eyes and hissed, "Really not helping!"

I bit my lip, and murmured, "Sorry."

She sighed. "Whatever, Bronwyn. I know all that already. I did some things I shouldn't have, and I paid for them in the end. I shouldn't have pretended to be someone I wasn't." She rolled her eyes and laughed lowly. "I guess I should've listened to what all those stupid bumper stickers say, huh? 'Be Yourself! Be Who You Were Born To Be!' Such a bunch of crap, but so not what I'm here to say."

"Which is what?" I asked unsurely, sitting tensely at the edge of my bed. Suddenly the roles were reversed, and I was the one being spoken to. I wondered, hopefully, if things would still be alright once this was said and done; would Amber sit with me like I had done with her?

Amber re-crossed her arms and stared at me with hard blue eyes. She suddenly looked like mum. "I don't get why you're doing this to yourself. No, wait. I know why you're doing this, but it's just a bunch of bull."

I frowned again, fighting the urge to scratch my head in the typical Me Not Understand gesture. I settled with, "Um…?"

"You like him," she stressed. "He likes you. What's the problem?"

I stared at her. "Apart from the obvious?"

Amber huffed. "Emery and me are over and done with. Yeah, I still like him, and yeah, I'd be pissed as hell when you two get together—but I'll deal, OK? That's what sisters are meant to do, right? I know you've done it for me before, so why shouldn't I have a go? Put aside my own feelings and all that shit and just let you be happy. Make the bumper stickers proud."

There was so much I could have commented on; all I could say was, "When we get together?"

My sister huffed again and put her hands on her hips. She narrowed her eyes at me. "Of all the things I said, you only heard that?"

I offered her a small, sorry smile.

She rolled her eyes. "Typical."

There was a sudden quiet and I fidgeted. Finally I said hesitantly, "Amber?"


"Um…so, what, ah, exactly…are you saying?"

Amber started shaking her head. "Do I have to spell it out for you? Seriously, I thought you were smart?"

"Um, no, that's a common misconception," and I grinned to show her I was just playing. I eagerly awaited her answer, my stomach practically quivering with anxiousness.

"I think it's obvious what I'm saying," said Amber, leveling her gaze on me. "I'm letting you have Emery." She sniffed and turned her head away, muttering loud enough for me to hear, "He had rotten taste in music anyway…"

Surprising us both, I stood and crossed to her, wrapped my arms around her shoulders in an awkward hug. Her hands touched my back unsurely; patting me like I was someone she was meant to know but had forgotten my name. "You don't have to," I murmured into her vanilla smelling hair.

"No, I didn't," she answered smartly. "But I did. Now, can you stop this, please? We haven't hugged since we were little, and it's a bit, well, weird…"

"I know," I grinned, pulling away. "But I needed to touch you. Look for an off-button. Make sure you weren't a robot or something."

She frowned at me. "What?"

"Nothing," I laughed.

"No, seriously, what are you talking about?"

"Seriously, Ambs, nothing! I was just being stupid."

"Like always…"

"I heard that under-the-breath mutter," I said, grinning as she shot me a less than impressed look.

"That was the idea," droned Amber, and suddenly I was happy.

How couldn't I be?



There had finally come a cloudy day; it held the heaviness of rain yet was still warm, with a slight teasing breeze that tugged at my loose hair. The front of the school was mostly deserted; the car park scattered with a few cars of students and teachers, but otherwise spookily deserted. I was the only person around, watching as leaves broke away from branches in the trees and spiraled through the air and wondering, idly, what Amber was doing.

We had come to a truce. As long as I didn't speak to her too much about Emery or my feelings or any other of that 'disgusting stuff' as she called it, she was fine with the situation. I knew she wasn't really, but I respected her too much to go against her wishes.

I knew Amber still liked Emery, just like he'd once told me he still held feelings for her; both hers had changed, she told me, because she had held him so close before she couldn't see the whole picture. And now that he was gone, she said, she could understand just why they couldn't and wouldn't work. Something about bad band preferences and an 'alternate lifestyle' which she contributed to why I was attracted to him; something Andrea had picked from the start.

The HSC exams were finally drawing to a close, which was why I was standing out the front of the school on a Tuesday afternoon an hour after the bell had rung, leaning against the side of my car, staring at the empty gates with a pattering pulse. When the first of the seniors started to emerge, my stomach leapt and I wanted to vomit or run; I decided on neither and held my ground, albeit with trembling knees.

And when I saw his beanie-covered head and the glowing sunken halo of hair that peeked from beneath, I was regretting my choice not to flee. But Amber's words, along with Andy's and Matt's and even Nathan's, everyone who knew of my sudden decision, they all came to me: do it, they said, you deserve it. Do it for yourself, for once. Help yourself. And Matt and Nathan had taken me aside and said in sly hushed tones, Do it now and you'll get a third of our bet winnings. Tell no one we have talked.

So here I was, feeling sick to my stomach and clenching my fists so tightly I was pressing crescent shaped nail marks into my palms. Emery was coming closer, walking by himself with his head bowed and shoulders pushed forward. Hands in pockets, for once the school dress code as needed to sit for the exams, and beat-up skater shoes dragging along the cement. As he approached the school gates, I was sure he'd glance up and see me; that's all he needed to do, look up and there'd I'd be—waiting.

But he passed through the gates and turned immediately left, away from me, heading towards what I recognized as his car parked by the opposite fence. My stomach jerked and a word of exclamation jumped to my throat, but I shut my mouth. If he wanted to walk away, so be it. Pulling a crumpled plastic bag from my pocket, I pushed away from the car.

With ammo in hand, I pulled my arm back and threw—

—and hit my target dead on.

Emery stopped in his tracks. He glanced over his shoulder, his eyebrows furrowed as he took me in. Then he glanced to the ground and the suspicious object by his foot. "Did you just…throw a jelly bean at me?"

"Mm hmm." I nodded casually. "Yeah," I said, "A white one."

He lifted his eyes; ocean eyes that made me see the horizon. "White ones shouldn't be wasted," he said lowly.

"Well, I thought it was for a good cause." My heart was beating so loud I was sure he could hear it—or at least see it struggling away in my throat, where it felt like it was lodged, hindering my breathing.

Emery turned to face me, hands still in his pockets, shoulders still hunched. He tiled his head and watched me guardedly. "And what good cause would that be?" he asked.

"I had to get your attention somehow," I admitted, shrugging.

"But throwing a jelly bean at me?"

I smiled slightly. "Have any better ideas?"

Emery replied, "You could have always said, 'Hey, you,' or something equally effective."

"Nah," I shook my head, "very unoriginal. And not as symbolic."

Emery's lip's showed the suspicious twitch of a smile but I wouldn't let myself become too victorious; there was still a bit to go. Like actual conversation. "What symbolism do white jelly beans have?"

"For us?" At his slight nod, I smiled. "Quite a bit, actually." Emery waited silently, and I bit my lip as thoughts deserted me. "Um, well, for starters… There were white jelly beans involved when we first met. And we talked about them the second time we met, which was a rather strange conversation if I remember correctly…" Emery really smiled that time, quickly, before his face turned neutral.

"And?" he prompted.

"Um," I shifted, thinking hard. "White jelly beans are…something we have in common! We have a lot of things in common, you know…"

"Including my brother."

I frowned. "What does Cobe have to do with this?"

Emery shrugged and looked away, the muscles in his arms suddenly tense. Then it hit me, and I swallowed a laugh. "Emery," I said, loving the way his name rolled from my tongue. He flicked his eyes to me. "Cobe and I are just friends."

"He likes you," added Emery, and he frowned, as if thinking he shouldn't have said it.

But I shook my head. "He liked me, and I like him, but just as a friend. I, um, told him…about this other guy I liked, and he said he understood, knowing the other guy personally, and he thought we'd make an OK couple." I shrugged over-casually, hating the way things were so tightly contained.

Emery had turned back to face me full on, and he said lowly, "Just OK?"

I bit my lip. "Well, maybe more than OK… But I don't know if it will happen."

"Why not?" he asked softly.

"This guy…I don't know if he likes me anymore." I wanted to look away, to turn away, to avoid the shame of admitting my misgivings, but Emery had me in his stare and wouldn't let me go.

"Why wouldn't he like you anymore? You seem like a nice sort of girl."

I bit my lip, wondering if that was truly how he saw me. Ignoring the slow, uncomfortable pounding of my heart, I said truthfully, "I did some things and said some things that I shouldn't have. I was just being stupid and trying to make everyone happy."

Emery's had taken a few steps forward without me knowing. It made my chest tighten. He asked, "Did it work?"

"No," I admitted.

"Good," he said. At my puzzled look, he sighed and dropped the act. Finally. "Bronwyn, you can't make everyone happy. If you could, you'd never be happy. It's just…you need to have balance."

I fiddled with the hem of my shirt, watching as he took another sliding step closer. "What do you suggest?" I asked shyly.

He lifted his lips into a smile. "I suggest you make yourself happy."

I smiled and walked those few steps closer, so we were only a bare metre apart. "Well, that was the plan," I admitted.

"I'd thought so," he grinned.

"You did?"

"Well, hoped. I'd hoped so."

Something in the way he said it had me narrowing my eyes suspiciously. "Emery," I stated, and he held his hands up.

"OK, OK." He bit his lip and my attention immediately went to his lip ring, which caught the grey afternoon light and had me thinking back to when I had it pressed against my mouth, in my mouth— "I might've had a tip off that you'd be here today."

My attention went back to his eyes, as did my indignation. "Matt and Nathan?"

He half-shrugged and held his hands out again, giving me a sorry, 'Oops' sort of smile. "Maybe…"

I almost growled. "Those boys… I'm so going to—"

"—come over here?" Emery finished, grabbing a hold of my arm and tugging me forward. "I thought you'd never offer."

I opened my mouth, prepared to go into a lengthy spiel about my well-laid plans and how they could've all been spoiled by Matt and Nathan meddling where they didn't belong, but Emery put his arms around my shoulders and back and hugged me into his chest. I went without protest. As I nuzzled the laundry-soap scent of his shirt, I picked up on a stale less-liked smell. "Why do you smoke?" I asked curiously, my voice partially muffled. "Not that I have a problem with it, I was just, you know…"

He laughed and I heard it through his chest, right where it was created. I got shivers. "Just fell into the crowd, I guess," he admitted. "But I haven't had a cigarette in a few months, not since Opal's party."

"Oh," I said, and felt content.

"So…" Emery pushed me gently away and looked into my face. "What made you change your mind?"

I hmmed and shrugged a single shoulder. "Just…some things Amber said, and things you said, and…things I thought but never said."

"Yeah?" he murmured, dipping his head closer. A tendril of his tawny hair tickled my nose and I ducked away with a grin. Emery shook his head with a laugh, and I realised I'd missed the sound. After all these months of ducking and dodging and lying and confusion, I could always admit to that; I'd missed his laugh, his dimples, Him. I knew Amber wasn't comfortable with Us, if there even would be an Us—it was looking positive though, if the way Emery pressed his lips against my ear was any consideration—but I knew she would be. Amber had promised me she would be, and I took her promise seriously.

Things would finally be looking normal again. No, better than normal. Great. Even if Mr. McKenzie called me out to the front of the class for the entire last year of school, it would still be great; because, I guess, if I could survive an entire year like the one I'd just survived—I could put up with Differentiation any day.

Within reason, of course.

"I've been meaning to tell you something for a while," said Emery as he started leading me towards my car.


"About that first time we met..."

I flushed, cringing internally. "When I was in my underwear?"


"Um, what of it?"

He flashed a dimpled grin and his aquamarine eyes crinkled. "I think it was about then that I knew you were different from other girls."

I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. "How is that?"

"You were too busy eating to worry about how you were dressed—or, how you weren't dressed."

"Oh," I drawled, "hardy-har-har." Emery chuckled and slipped an arm around my waist, pulling me into his side.

It wasn't a perfect fit, but it was perfect enough for us.


soundtrack for this chapter: 'I Do' by Better Than Ezra; 'If You Leave' by Nada Surf; 'Turn On Me' by The Shins.