Chapter 10

Author's Note: Making it brief. Sorry for the wait! This chapter is dedicated to Joe, for the usual reasons; to Alex, for inspiring me; to Ben, for supplying me with the material for Vince's music ramblings; and to unwashed heathen, for asking me a question and giving me no method of contacting him/her with an answer.

Chapter 10

It was the last Friday evening of June, and it was quarter to nine p.m. following a scorching hot day. The sun had set and the weak twilight was steadily fading out – it was almost dark.

The porch light was on, and they were sitting on the grass in Lorena's yard in varying states of relaxation, watching the fireflies flicker by. An empty bowl of popcorn sat upended a few feet away from them, and in the center of their circle a stick of strawberry flavored incense was lit and stuck into the ground, the overpowering sweet smoke curling and twisting into ambiguous shapes above their heads.

Gypsy felt strangely comforted when she discovered that there was always incense burning in Lorena's house. It made her think of Clara and her scented candles.

Lorena was wearing Todd's oversized sweatshirt, and it was so much larger than her tank top and short shorts that the casual observer wouldn't have known she was wearing anything underneath. She was situated between Todd's legs and leaning back against his chest, and he had his arms wrapped tight around her waist and his chin sitting on the top of her head. Occasionally he bent down and kissed her neck, and she giggled. Lorena was busy – Gypsy was stretched out on the ground in front of her, and Lorena was intently weaving her hair into many long, thin braids. Gypsy's long black skirt poofed out around her legs, and she lay on her back with her hair fanned out immensely on the grass behind her, letting Lorena have her fun. Her head was turned to look across the twirling smoke at Vince, who was leaned against a tree with his acoustic guitar and strumming something as Gypsy halfheartedly berated him for having no idea who Ani DiFranco was. He was laughing and shaking his head. Lying on Gypsy's stomach was Vince's songwriting notebook, and she was taking notes as he was struggling with the lyrics to the last verse. Usually she'd have a line half-written before he'd order her to cross it out, and she was getting silly by that point and had begun to giggle loudly and uncontrollably every time he told her to get rid of something. Every couple minutes she would offer him her barrettes, lying on the ground beside her, so he wouldn't have to keep pushing his hair out of his eyes. Attempting to assist in this persuasion, though quite aware that his suggestions that they do Vince's makeup and take him to a gay bar weren't appreciated by anybody, Kevin was sprawled out perpendicular to Gypsy with his head right by her knees. His hands were tucked behind his head and occasionally he snatched in vain at a firefly on its way past.

"I think we should do Vince's hair next." Said Gypsy, wondering vaguely how her own looked now that about half of it was locked into tiny braids.

"Over my dead body." Vince said flatly.

"I don't know about you guys, but I think that sounds like an invitation." Kevin cracked, yawning.

"I don't know, Vince would look pretty hot with the whole long braid thing going, especially if his hair were just a little longer…" Lorena grinned. "Oh come on, babe, I'm joking. Maybe someday."

"Definitely." Gypsy said decisively. "One day, Vince is going to lose a bet and have to let us have our way with his hair."

"Tch." Vince shook his head.

"Anyway," she changed the subject, "I liked the way you had it before. The near-rhyme is way less annoying than having the syllables off."

"The smoke is making me dizzy." Todd mused.

"Me too." Lorena agreed. "I'm always trying to find pictures. If you're really tired you can see whole filmstrips, almost."

"You're right!" Gypsy said enthusiastically. "Like look, there's a bird!"

"And there'd a dragony thing!" Lorena added.

"And look, I see a whole bunch of…smoke." Vince said flatly. "You guys are morons."

"Damn," said Kevin, "one of these days I have to get you people high."

"Heh," Gypsy snorted. There was a long and expectant pause. "You know," said Gypsy, "it's not often you get to have an awkward silence with actual crickets chirping in the background."

"We had crickets in fifth grade," Lorena recalled, "for our science project. They made noise during tests and pissed everybody off."

There was another awkward pause, and then,

"I'm going to take a walk." Said Kevin, sitting up suddenly. The others turned to him. "I need a cigarette."

"I'll go with you." Gypsy said amicably, hoisting herself up on her elbows. Vince frowned. "Oh, wait…" she remembered her half-done hair. "Does my hair look…?"

"Right now?" Kevin grinned, standing up. "Looks fuckin' ridiculous." He said affectionately. "But I don't mind being seen with you and you're not gonna run into anyone you know out here, so who gives?"

"Just let me finish this one." Lorena said quickly, and redoubled her efforts on the braid she was in the middle of making. "There."

Kevin reached down for one of Gypsy's hands and pulled her to her feet. "We'll be back soon."

"Be good." Lorena said brightly.

"God, don't even say that…" Vince muttered.

Gypsy brushed off her skirt and followed Kevin silently past the house and onto the sidewalk, extremely conscious of her weird hair and hoping Kevin was right about running into people.

He stopped on the sidewalk, reached into one of his huge pockets and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. "You don't smoke, right?" He asked, in place of offering her one.

She shook her head.


In the paling light she stood silently and watched him transfer the flickering light from his lighter to the end of his cigarette, making it glow. Gypsy, when she thought about it, had always been somehow drawn to smokers – her old best friend had smoked, even in eighth grade, and so had her first boyfriend. She wondered how many hours of her life she must have spent standing outside someplace and watching somebody smoke. Probably whole days. She never wanted them to have to do it outside alone.

Gypsy enjoyed watching guys smoke. She figured this must say all sorts of bad things about her. But some people, like Kevin, were really good at it. Gypsy got sick every time she tried, but Kevin made it look as natural as drinking a glass of water.

Kevin looked good smoking. Kevin just looked good. The more Gypsy grew to like Kevin as a person the less she felt guilty for staring at him. His black t-shirt stretched tightly across his broad chest and shoulders, his pants fit reasonably and stayed up at his waist. Wavy hair curled into his blue eyes. His expression was neutral – relaxed, but not smiling. Kevin had what Gypsy called a pretty smile but ultimately was more handsome with a serious expression. Gypsy wanted, for a moment, to reach out and touch him – to lay a simple hand on his sturdy arm or to wrap her arms around his waist and bury her face in his warm, solid, smoke-and-Axe-smelling chest.

That, Gypsy reminded herself, would in the long run be a very stupid idea. But it didn't hurt to look.

Kevin caught her looking and let his smile creep across his face slowly as he met her gaze. Gypsy smiled back, fighting the urge to giggle and look away. She had decided upon that moment that she was no longer a giggle-and-look-away kind of person.

"What?" He cocked his head and tugged playfully at one of her braids. "You look like you've never seen so much rugged manliness in such a well-designed package."

Gypsy then recalled that he was Kevin and hit him on the shoulder, feeling an inexplicable rush of relief that the spell had been broken.

"I swear this seemed like a good idea at the time." Gypsy sighed as she stood in front of Lorena's full-length mirror, laboriously freeing her hair one narrow braid at a time.

"I don't see why you can't just leave them in to sleep." Lorena shrugged from her bed, where she was sitting cross-legged with a stuffed lion in her lap. "Back when I had long hair I'd braid it before bed all the time…"

"And it'd be wavy when you woke up?" Gypsy finished her sentence, sarcastically brandishing a tight spiral curl.

"Touché." Lorena giggled dismissively.

Gypsy had never been in Lorena's actual house before, save for a couple brief forays through the back door and into the kitchen for drinks. Lorena's room was what Gypsy had expected when Lorena had invited her to sleep over – large, cluttered, and colorful, every last detail screaming "Lorena." The four walls were in neon shades of orange, yellow, pink, and green, and dotted from ceiling to floor with posters celebrating everything from William Shakespeare to Janis Joplin to various J-pop bands, and the ceiling was black and littered with glow-in-the-dark stars and planets. Her bedspread, clearly retained since childhood for its throwback appeal, was Sailor Moon themed. The closet was as cluttered as it was enormous, and the desk area, with a laptop and several notepads, was piled high with schoolbooks, manga and craft magazines. Her parents' bedroom was down the hall, and in between was a guest room. Downstairs, there was a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, and a den. The basement had been converted into a study for Mr. Chang.

The house at first glance seemed far too large for the Chang family, of whom there were only three and the tallest of whom, Lorena's father, was exactly five feet tall. But Dr. Chang and her husband were as friendly and energetic as Lorena, and so somehow the house, huge and carefully decorated as it was, managed to avoid feeling like a hotel or museum.

Gypsy had long since been confirmed in her suspicions that Lorena's family was fairly loaded, but if Lorena was aware of it, it was only in the most uncomfortable way.

"We redecorated the room two years ago." Lorena had said conversationally as they walked in. "It had gotten, you know, really childish, all this kiddie cartoon stuff and girly frills everywhere. Obviously I kept the bedspread. I like it now, though. I can keep it updated, you know, if I want to, by changing the posters and stuff, so I go through my little phases. It used to be, like, floor-to-ceiling anime. Yikes."

Gypsy laughed and looked up at the stars on the ceiling. "It must have been a pain getting the ladder all the way up the stairs."

Lorena laughed. "We haven't brought a ladder in this house in years. Any simple indoor job we can't reach without a ladder we pay Vince to do. He just needs a footstool. He was a huge help redecorating the room. We were able to paint the ceiling without him, you know, just with footstools, because they have those rollymabobs with the huge handles, but he put the stickers on. It's win-win, you know."

"Right, because Vince needs the extra cash…"

"…and my family's really little, exactly. And we hate manual labor around here, I mean, it's a miracle if the lawn gets mowed. So if Vince's mom's between jobs for a couple weeks or his shoes wear out or something we can always find, you know, some excuse to pay him for being tall."

"And Vince doesn't mind? I mean, he must know what you're doing, but I suppose he knows when to accept help…?"

"Oh, they fight over it every time. He always does the refusing-payment thing, you know, but obviously Mom won't have it, and he gives eventually. I think it embarrasses him, but he knows he won't win the argument, and of course he'll never refuse to do a job we ask him to do. At least he knows he did earn it, you know, even if he thinks he owes us already. For the checkups and stuff. Which is stupid, because we'd do the free checkups and stuff even if he didn't have money troubles. He's like family."

Gypsy yanked the last rubber band from her hair and freed the last lock with a dramatic flourish. "Ha! Finally."

Lorena clapped enthusiastically. "Awesome. Now, you can go change into your PJs in the bathroom if you want, and I'll change and set up sleeping bags and stuff in here, and we can figure out if we want to watch a movie?"

"Sure." Gypsy agreed, grabbing her overnight bag and heading towards the door.

"Any idea what you want to watch?" Lorena called after her.

"Anything but Moulin Rouge!" Gypsy called back.

"Aww, jeez!" Lorena protested. "Moulin Rouge is the sleepover movie! That's like saying you don't want to be my friend!"

"I am over that movie. I've done the twelve steps." Gypsy shot back over her shoulder, laughing as she reached the bathroom door. "I never want to see, hear, or think about Moulin Rouge again."

Lorena made a face at Gypsy's retreating back, which she saw in the bathroom mirror before she shut the door behind her, chuckling.

Gypsy's sleepwear consisted of brightly polka-dotted yellow pajama pants and a blue cami, Lorena's a tie-dye shirt in an adult's large, which reached halfway to her knees, worn as a nightgown. Gypsy pulled her hair into a bushy ponytail, not to be released until right before she actually went to sleep. When she went back into Lorena's room, Dr. Chang was helping Lorena set up Gypsy's sleeping bag along with several pillows, and Lorena was explaining "Axe" to her bemused mother as "a kind of cheap, overpowering man-perfume that's supposed to get you laid."

Dr. Chang was like an older, dignified Lorena, perhaps an old-fashioned version raised with more conservative manners – she was quieter, albeit a willing and engaged conversationalist, but it was obvious she had the same amount of energy; hers was simply the intensity that reminds you of a worker bee, whereas Lorena's was the intensity of a firecracker. She was an inch taller than Lorena and a good ten to fifteen pounds heavier, which put her presumably somewhere in the nineties range, but although that was probably dead average for her height she still appeared thin – not in the weightless, twiglike way that Lorena was thin, which bespoke of the very young girls whose shoulderblades stick sharply out of their backs like a defense against attackers, but in a way that was simply compact. But when you put them in a room together, Dr. Chang appeared somehow smaller than her daughter.

Ming Chang was wearing capris, a flowered blouse, and flip-flops, and her hair was wrapped into an elaborate bun and held somehow with those decorative hair-chopsticks that Gypsy didn't understand – she was just conservative enough to look like a grown-up, but colorful enough not to look out of place in Lorena's bedroom. She had a slight Chinese accent, but her English was perfect, not even slightly awkward like that of some of the first-generation Chinese students at the school. Lorena didn't even have the accent.

Gypsy thanked Dr. Chang for her help with the bed with the uncomfortable grace that she adopted with friends' parents, as Dr. Chang bid them goodnight and instructed them to feel free to go downstairs and get anything they needed, presumably in the way of food. She added on her way out that Mr. Chang had found his muse and would probably be in his study all night, so Lorena could kiss him goodnight in the morning.

"Ah, you like Bikini Kill?" Gypsy noted, eyeing Lorena's wall as she sat down on her sleeping bag. "That's cool. My sister loves them. I dunno, I always feel like I'm supposed to like Bikini Kill, but I can't get into them. Same with The Runaways. Just sounds like Joan Jett with bad sound quality. For good reason, I guess."

Lorena nodded. "Yeah, I can see that. I dunno, I just like almost anything."

"Ahh, but you like Garbage!" Gypsy noted with delight, looking up a few posters higher.

"Oh my gosh, yeah!" Lorena squealed. "Damn, I love having another girl in the band! I forgot there are other people around who like Garbage…"

"…and don't just think Shirley Manson is hot!" Gypsy finished with her.

"Not that I'd kick her out of bed." Lorena added, grinning, and she turned to Gypsy and smiled warmly.

"It was nice of you to keep Kevin company while he smoked. We're always pushing him out, poor thing."

"Eh, I'm used to it." She shrugged. "My ex-boyfriend smoked. Worse than Kevin does."

"Kevin used to be a lot worse." Lorena said knowingly. "He cut back over the last year. How recently did you date this guy?"

"We broke up at the beginning of January."

Lorena nodded, noting the proximity to Gypsy's move to Whitstown. "Couldn't do the long-distance thing?"

Gypsy nodded. "Yeah."

"Do you know how he's doing now?"

Gypsy shook her head. "We don't talk. He took it pretty hard. I'd rather not keep ties to anything from my old town, anyways."

Lorena raised her eyes from her needlepoint to Gypsy's face, as if looking for permission to ask. When Gypsy smiled slightly, Lorena ventured, "…why did you move in with your sister?"

Gypsy wasn't hesitant. "My old life was epic fail." She admitted, with a very small laugh. "My friends were assholes. My best friend Kelsey was a total basket case and I was kind of her bitch, and we snuck out and drank and did all sorts of stupid shit, the two of us, and Sadie, and Kelsey's boyfriend. And mine. She expected me to drop everything to be at her beck and call but she'd ditch me for her boyfriend on a minute's notice – you know the type, I guess. And my grades sucked. I mean, my best grade was a B, and that was in chorus."

"…how did you get a B in chorus?"

"I didn't show up to the winter concert, so I failed that marking period."


"Yeah. That's really why I'm staying. I was sent out here mostly because of the partying and sneaking around; they wanted me away from Kelsey and crew for a few months. I was going to go back next year. But my grades shot up so much when I moved here that they're letting me finish high school with Clara as long as I keep it up." She added, "I'm a straight B student now. Not that that means anything to you." She laughed wryly, recalling that Lorena wasn't allowed to take home a grade lower than an A-minus.

Lorena shrugged, clearly embarrassed, and Gypsy felt guilty for mentioning it.

"You know, it's weird. I didn't even know for sure that Kevin smoked until I'd known him for a month or so." Gypsy said conversationally. "I mean, I assumed he probably did because Kevins tend to smoke. But you can't really smell it on him unless you're super close, and then it's not too strong. I mean, my ex was so bad even I smelled like it."

Lorena laughed.

"Kevin's very protective of his sex appeal. Thus the hardcore addiction to Axe and Altoids. He's a pretty moderate smoker, but he's a pack-a-day Altoid consumer."

"The CVS people must love him."

"Oh yeah. They know he's too young to buy cigarettes, but they don't think they'd get in trouble if someone caught him, because it looks like such an honest mistake. You wouldn't think he was seventeen."

"Is he only seventeen?"

"He turns eighteen in the beginning of August."


Lorena stuck her tongue out. "You know, he was asking that about you, the other day."


"When your birthday is."

"Wants to know if I'm legal?"


"You lied and said I wasn't, right?"

Lorena laughed. "I'm sorry, sweetcakes. It didn't occur to me."

"It's fine." Gypsy laughed. "I think he's taken the hint, anyways."

Lorena nodded.

"Oh!" Gypsy exclaimed. "That reminds me! I'd been meaning to ask you."

"Shoot, darling."

"Do you know Ruby Lawrence?"

The good-natured smile fell off Lorena's face. "I wouldn't say we know each other, per se."

"But do you know who she is? She was in chorus last year, the redhead…God, she is so gorgeous, couldn't you just kill her?"

"I could, actually." Lorena said dryly.

Gypsy stopped, uncomfortable, afraid she'd said something wrong. "Oh…I'm sorry, do you guys not get along?"

"It would be a little dramatic to say that." Lorena laughed, sensing Gypsy's discomfort and trying to alleviate it. "We've said maybe two sentences to each other. I guess you could say we aren't very compatible?"

"Ah." Gypsy smiled apologetically. "I can sort of see that, yeah. I dunno, she was nice to me…"

"And that's good." Lorena nodded encouragingly. "Really, sweetheart, I don't have much against her, or certainly not to the point where I care if you're friends with her. She has a history of not always treating my friends very well, which I'm glad she hasn't continued with you. And she has once or twice…" Lorena gesticulated vaguely as she searched for the best way to word it. "…contributed to the spread of ideas about me that had not been verified."

"Ah." Gypsy winced. "Oh, I'm sorry. I won't…she did seem a little odd, to tell you the truth, but I was just wondering…never mind."

Lorena nodded. "It's fine. Really, I don't mind if you're friends."

"Yeah, okay, thanks."

Gypsy had wanted to ask what the hell was up with Ruby and Kevin, but she couldn't see an answer coming and knew she wouldn't have the guts now that Lorena and Ruby had bad blood. But it was a question she'd been dying to ask her. Gypsy and Ruby had become, if not fast friends, then fast friendly in the time they'd worked together, and Gypsy had started taking her lunch breaks with Ruby and her friends when her break coincided with hers and not with Vince's. Ruby reminded her of all the things she'd actually liked about Kelsey – she was fun and glamorous, the kind of girl friend who gave knowing advice on brands of mascara and was actively angry with you when she discovered that you used disposable razors. She couldn't talk to her about music or anything deep, but they could gossip about teachers and bitch about their summer homework together. Ruby was the sort of friend that Gypsy knew would be fun to go shopping or check out guys with – in other words, nothing whatsoever that she couldn't get from Lorena, but while the fun in hanging out with Lorena was acting like a dork and not caring about it, hanging out with Ruby made you feel like you were cool. But every couple of days, Kevin's name would come up, somehow – Gypsy would inadvertently mention him, or Ruby would ask if he was dating anyone – and a dark shadow would pass over the conversation. A sort of hungry desperation came over Ruby every time he was mentioned, but Gypsy didn't feel at all comfortable asking her about it, and when she'd mentioned it to Vince in the mall parking lot he had had only one thing to say: "Whatever you do, don't mention her name to Kevin."

"But Gypsy?"

Gypsy looked up at Lorena, jerked out of her reverie. "Yeah?"

"Whatever you do, do not mention her name to Kevin."

Lorena fell asleep around one a.m., after they'd finished arguing about who was the best guy Rory had ever dated in Gilmore Girls ("Jess." Gypsy said flatly. "Hands-down Jess. Dean was such an asshole!" "By the end of their relationship. They were all assholes by the end of their relationship – but Logan and Jess were assholes when she first met them, too." "Dean has no depth." "Hun, you keep workin' that bad boy syndrome.") and Gypsy lay up, glad she'd insisted on sleeping in Lorena's room. Lorena had offered to set up the sleeping bags downstairs in the living room, where the TV was bigger and the refrigerator closer, but Gypsy had taken one look at the huge window in the living room and said no way, though she hadn't explained why. Gypsy had taken a month to adjust to sleeping on the first floor in Clara's house, even though her window wasn't that big and even though it was right across from Clara's room, she didn't feel safe – a serial killer could see her through the window, she was sure, and there'd be no escape – if he was at her window she'd run right into his arms if she ran out the front door, and what were the chances that she'd make it to the kitchen in time? She'd have to run across to Clara's room and escape out her window, but the windows didn't open that far and nobody had ever tested whether either of them could even get in or out one if they tried. Gypsy didn't want to die because of her huge ass. Although Clara reminded her that it was actually much safer to sleep on the first floor – nobody ever understood why the girls in Scream always ran upstairs – Gypsy secretly thought your chances were better if you could climb onto the roof, because there was usually a way to get down from there, and most serial killers probably wouldn't want to go through the trouble of climbing after you, and some of them might even be afraid of heights – and if he got you, she supposed you could jump to your death, and at least you wouldn't get raped.

They'd put blinds on the window so nobody could see in, and chain-locked the doors, so the serial killer couldn't get in unless he was an axe murderer and then he'd have to chop the door down, and that would take a long time and be very noisy, giving them ample time and opportunity to escape.

She looked at the window in Lorena's living room and the first thing she saw was a face appearing on the other side in the black of night, looking in and seeing fresh meat just a few feet away. The first face she imagined was the Default Imaginary Serial Killer Face – long straggly dark hair, hungry smile, crazy eyes. Other faces followed. A young thug with a gun. A masked man with a chainsaw. A young man's face with hard, angry features and striking blue eyes and a knife.

The last one was the scariest. It was all the hate in his face. He would go through the trouble of chasing you onto the roof.

Gypsy didn't like for people to know that she was so paranoid, because she thought it made her look stupid. It was pretty recently that she'd gotten so bad about it, sometime over the last year. The biggest change was in cars. In middle school, Gypsy used to sit in the car alone while her mom ran errands, because Errands always took place in boring, over-air-conditioned places where you had to stand up for long periods of time, and the car had a radio, and she thought nothing of it. But by the time she was fourteen it started to creep her out sitting alone in the car at night, and she insisted on locking all the doors and watched every passerby like a hawk. A car was indefensible. A total death trap. If someone was at your door, you had to escape out the one on the other side, and they could probably get over to that side about as fast as you could get out anyways. Horror scenes flashed through her mind – she's pinned against a car door with a knife to her throat. The door handle is right there. Does she grab it? Will he kill her before she gets out?

She never sat in cars alone anymore, not ever. And sometimes at night, people she usually trusted became threats alone in a car with her. Once Kevin made a joke about parking somewhere as he drove her home after practice at ten, and she passed the rest of the ride with her hand on the door handle and ready to pull. Just in case.

He had made a joke about it. "Man, you're eager to get out of here, Princess. Was it something I said?"

The next day at ten a.m. when Lorena and Gypsy woke up, Lorena declared, "We are not rehearsing today."

The thermometer read ninety-two Fahrenheit, and they were supposed to practice at one.

I move we play hooky today and swim at my house instead of practicing. She texted the entire group. All in favor?

Aye. Gypsy texted back as she sat beside her at the breakfast table, to make a statement.

Aye! Todd replied enthusiastically.

Fuck yeah. Wrote Kevin, showing both his reply and Lorena's original message to Vince, who had no cell phone.

Vince worked up enough of a disapproving look to satisfy the expectations of the rest of the band, and was glad he'd been outvoted before anyone could ask for his opinion. He would have said 'aye.'

Gypsy called Clara and asked her to run over her one-piece with the polka dots, the board shorts she got at the mall last week, her oversized grey t-shirt, and her shampoo, as she wanted to take a shower at Lorena's house if she was going to be there until God knew how late that evening and Lorena's shampoo wasn't made for curly hair. "Is she going to start living here?" Clara joked with Mr. Chang, with whom she hit it off so well that she was still chatting with him in the driveway after Gypsy got out of the shower.

Todd showed up first, in his parents' car, and Mr. Chang and Clara waved at Mrs. O'Keefe, who smiled tersely and pulled out of the driveway quickly, before they could say something.

"I'm sorry." He told them, embarrassed. "She's rushing to get to work."

"What's the real story?" Lorena asked when they were out of earshot, before kissing him.

"They don't want to talk to Clara. They think she's a statistic. I told them she's your sister, but they never believe me about that stuff. I'm pretty sure they think Lorena's parents are Communists."

Lorena laughed and shook her head, and she told Todd, who was already wearing his swim trunks and a t-shirt, to wait in the kitchen for Vince and Kevin to show up while Lorena and Gypsy went upstairs to change.

Vince showed up, to the surprise of all, in Kevin's car. "It was too hot to walk." He admitted. Vince had his swimsuit in a little bag with his towel, while Kevin was wearing his trunks underneath his pants and began to undress immediately after stepping inside.

"Whoa, whoa – okay, okay, I'm sorry, I was just walking downstairs and all I saw was you taking your pants off…" Gypsy stammered awkwardly, laughing as she came downstairs with Lorena in tow. Kevin threw back his head and laughed, his curls shaking. He sized Gypsy up slowly.

"Um, ew." He wrinkled his nose, taking in her t-shirt and board shorts. "Can you say '"hide me!" clothes'? I didn't think you were the type, Princess."

"Jeez, aren't you nice." Rebuked Vince, who approved of Gypsy's cover-up efforts wholeheartedly.

"It's a compliment." Kevin retorted. "I hate to see a pretty girl wearing 'hide me!' clothes."

Gypsy rolled her eyes, and Vince grunted and went upstairs to change. "Fine. I'll ditch the t-shirt. The shorts stay, though."

"That's okay, I guess. The shorts are…" Kevin contemplated Gypsy's shorts as she pulled her shirt over her head. "…almost cute. If you have a thing for really ugly shorts."

Gypsy hit Kevin with her shirt. "Not as ugly as my thighs. You're lucky I took the shirt off, so don't be an ass."

Kevin broke into a slow grin. "Not a problem. I overreacted to the shorts. You look cute as hell."

Gypsy stuck her tongue out, her best way of dealing with a compliment that she didn't want to accept but couldn't argue with without being rude, especially from Kevin.

Gypsy's swimsuit was a really retro-looking brown one-piece with a halter top and lighter-colored polka dots, and the shorts were a solid brown, close enough to a match to look okay.

"I like it." Lorena told her. "One pieces usually look kinda awkward, but the halter is nice, and you pull it off really well."

Lorena was wearing a string bikini that appeared to be exploding with tropical flowers, and Gypsy noticed for the first time that her belly button was pierced.

Vince thudded down the stairs looking shy, and Gypsy hooted with laughter.

"Is it a full moon?" She teased, taking in Vince's chest hair. "Or do you eat testosterone for breakfast?"

"Shut up." Vince rubbed his arm self-consciously, and Gypsy felt bad for picking on him when he was obviously embarrassed already.

Vince with his shirt off didn't look quite like Gypsy had expected – she'd imagined him being very skinny and pale, like a stretched-out little boy. In reality, Vince was quite tan – which she should have guessed, since his face was olive toned – and covered in dark hair. He was more muscular than she'd expected, too – he wasn't bulky, but he was wiry and quite well-defined in places, and while he didn't have a six-pack you could definitely see where his abs were. Vince noticed Gypsy checking him out and uncomfortably turned his back to her, thinking she was looking for more reasons to make fun of him.

Lorena had a standard above-ground pool. "Just big enough to drown in." She joked.

"That's not true." Todd corrected her. "You can drown in an inch of water."

"Just big enough to drown in properly." She amended, and kissed him before jumping in.

"You know, I only wear the shirt because Mom used to never let me go swimming without it." Gypsy was feeling strangely obligated to defend herself against being known to Kevin as a girl who wears "hide me!" clothes. "It was always like, 'there are boys around, and you're going to make them excited!'"

"I always wondered." Lorena floated on her back with the help of a noodle. "What is step three? Like, you know moms are always like, 'Don't wear that, or you'll get men excited.' So clearly, there are three steps. Step One. Girl wears skimpy outfit. Step Two. Men get excited. Step Three. HORRIBLE. THINGS. HAPPEN."

"Oh my God, I know!" Gypsy exclaimed. "What horrible things are supposed to happen?"

"Why doncha swim over here and I'll show you?" Kevin licked his lips and disappeared momentarily under a seeming tidal wave as Gypsy and Vince splashed him violently from both sides.

"It's a little distracting, though. I mean, it's hard to just go about your day acting normal if you're, you know, excited." Vince explained. "I mean, I would assume." He added, so as not to be misconstrued as having a libido or some such nonsense.

"I dunno, I don't buy that." Gypsy frowned. "Girls see hot guys all the time and we're expected to act normal about it and not drool or yell catcalls or go on sexually frustrated axe rampages like my mom must have seen some of you guys doing."

"I haven't had that problem either." Todd shrugged.

"So, I've been in something of a metal phase recently," Vince admitted to Gypsy, fighting a smile as she struggled to situate herself on a floatation device and kept toppling off. When she resurfaced from the water for the third time, he could see that she was laughing at him.

"You mean you didn't get that out of your system in middle school?" She feigned a disappointed look.

"Oh shut up, I know. But the guitar stuff is really cool. And I don't think anyone discovers real metal in middle school. I was listening to stuff like Slipknot. But that reminds me! I ran into this REALLY old Slipknot album that I wasn't aware of on the internet a while ago. It's ALSO self titled, which is kind of confusing, but the cover is green, which helps differentiate them. And the music sucks way less. It's before they started using a DJ, and also before they added two extra drummers. And it has super-evident thrash roots. So the sound is just…you know. Crunchier. Muddier. Faster."

Gypsy threw back her head and laughed.

"What?" Vince demanded.

"Nothing. Just listen to you. Anyone who didn't know you would be like, 'wow, does Vince dope? I've never heard mud before.'"

Vicne laughed, shaking his head. "'Mud' as a musical adjective refers to the thickness of the music." He lectured.

"Yeah, still sounds like you're on LSD." Gypsy retorted.

"But what really makes it better," Vince plowed on, ignoring her, "is Corey's singing. Unlike everything else, where he kind of just talks as loud as possible into the microphone, he goes for the real thrash-metal scream. He's not even very good at it, but it still sounds better, which really says more about the newer albums, but whatever."

"So we're boning away on her couch,"

Gypsy and Vince cringed and turned around to better hear the story that Kevin was telling to Lorena, who was shaking her head, and Todd, who looked slightly mortified.

"and all of a sudden she stops and is like, 'Kevin, do you love me?' And I'm like 'Aww, fuck.' And I was totally stuck, because, I mean, you can't just say no, but I always promised I'd never say 'I love you' when I didn't mean it. So I'm like, 'Babe, they tell you never to say 'I love you' during sex; it doesn't mean anything. Can we talk about this later?' And as soon as we're done, I'm like, 'Oh fuck, late for work! Talk to you later!'"

"Oh Kevin, you didn't." Lorena groaned.

"I've been dodging her calls all week. What a clusterfuck! But I swear to God this wasn't my fault. She said friends with benefits! Girls don't know the meaning of No Strings Attached."

"You're disgusting." Vince said vehemently.

"Well, did you know she liked you?" Gypsy asked carefully. "I mean, did you have any idea?"

"Well, she asked me out." Kevin shrugged.


"But dude, it was fine! She asked me out, and I said I wanted to be single for the summer, so she was like, okay, why not be friends with benefits? It all seemed fine!"

"Sweetypie. Seriously?" Lorena sighed heavily. "You do NOT agree to be friends with benefits with someone who has deeper feelings for you! Ever. I don't understand this! Pretty much the worst thing that can happen in a friends with benefits relationship is that one person starts to want more. So why, why in the name of all that is holy would you become friends with benefits with someone who already wants more?"

Gypsy shook her head. "I say this all the time. Friends with benefits sounds like a good idea in theory, but somebody always gets screwed over."

"Have you ever done it?" Kevin asked Gypsy, curious.

"…what?" Gypsy yelped.

"I mean been friends with benefits, Princess!" He laughed. "Jesus."

Gypsy blushed. "Not exactly. I had a friend I made out with, but it was only for about a month while I was broken up with my boyfriend, and it only happened a couple times. And I don't think you could call it friends with benefits. It was more like…God, it was more like Friends with Valiant Sacrifices. He was awful."

Everyone but Vince laughed loudly. Vince was thoroughly peeved that the current conversation was happening, and also that Kevin had so quickly diverted Gypsy's attention from him.

"I was mostly trying to get back at my boyfriend, anyways. We were Taking A Break. Man, was he pissed."

"Same boyfriend?" Lorena asked.

"Yeah. I only ever dated the one guy."

"Pfft." Kevin scoffed. "I'm surrounded by virgins." He eyed Gypsy up. "Or am I?"

Kevin laughed, preparing to fend Gypsy off easily when she lunged at him, but was caught off guard when Vince helped her dunk him.