Chapter 21

"Flabbergasted Finality"

"That little girl has got ADD worse than anyone else I've ever met before," Tisha remarked to Hannah. "That's a trait I never thought Isaac would like in a girl."

Hannah's mouth turned up almost into a smile as she and Tisha stalked Avalon Edwards in the Fairfield Commons mall. Tisha was growing annoyed because every time she thought she'd have time to try on clothes before Avalon left a nearby store, Avalon abruptly left the store she was in, and so Hannah and Tisha would have to trek after her. It had already happened four times.

"What is she even doing here?" Tisha mumbled to herself, craning her neck around to get a better look at Avalon. "What kind of pathetic friends would let her go to the mall all by herself? I almost feel sad for her."

Hannah glanced at Avalon, who was walking around rather obliviously. She was on the short side with extremely pale blonde hair, cut to frame her small, heart-shaped face. Hannah hadn't gotten a close enough look at Avalon to know her eye color, but, from afar, she could congratulate Isaac on his girlfriend or at least on picking someone cute.

"I almost feel sad for us." Tisha sighed and took out her cell phone, texting away. "We've been following her around for almost an hour. Have you got enough nerve to approach her yet?"

It took Hannah a few seconds to realize that Tisha hadn't asked her a question that was rhetorical. She was growing all too used to just spacing out on her own and listening distantly to what was going on around her. "Um, sure."

Tisha frowned at Hannah openly, studying her somberly. Hannah tried to look perky, but she knew from Tisha's sigh that her act was see-through. "Fine. We'll follow her into whatever store she goes into next."

While getting information on Avalon had seemed like a good thing to do, Hannah's heart wasn't into stalking her. Then again, Hannah's heart hadn't been into much of anything that she'd done over the past few days. For nearly a week, her mind had been somewhere else entirely, thinking about Jake, of course. Almost a week had gone by since that night he'd fallen asleep with her, and she'd barely talked to him at all over all that time.

At first, Hannah hadn't thought too much about it. There had been a cluster of basketball games all at once, and Hannah had chalked up Jake's absence to his involvement with basketball. She'd also taken into consideration that he was practicing quite a bit, but, when Isaac was at home or with his friends or with Avalon, Hannah knew that Jake had the opportunity to be too. Sometimes on these occasions, Jake's truck would be parked across the street, but usually it wasn't.

Then there were the times that Hannah did see him. At school, they stayed on their respective sides of the classrooms, ate at their respective tables at lunch, and stayed busied with their respective projects and friends. Even trips to her locker didn't result in Hannah seeing Jake. Putting all of this together made Hannah jump to the conclusion that Jake was avoiding her, but what kind of jerk would do that? Kiss a girl and then ignore her?

That was cruel.

If he was playing her hot and cold after all of this… Hannah nearly scowled as she walked behind Tisha in the mall. She definitely scowled when Tisha's feet stopped moving and Hannah collided into her back.

Tisha spun around easily and took a deep breath. "Okay, I can't pretend everything is all right anymore," she blurted, catching Hannah off guard. "You've been distant for a week now, Hannah. Please tell me you're not mad because me and the other girls believe Jake. I know you were feeling betrayed that we think he's practically in love with you and all, but please don't be mad. None of us have even brought it up since we told you that he likes you, you know? Hold a grudge if you absolutely have to, but I'd really prefer it if you didn't."

Hannah stared at her friend. Outbursts from Tisha were rare, but when she'd been bottling an upset, it usually came out that way. It was something that Hannah was used to. It just wasn't something she was expecting at that moment.

Tisha's words reminded Hannah of why she had talked to Jake in the first place. Fearful that he was planning to take her down somehow, Hannah had been set to take him down first. But when she really tried to think of ways to rip his world apart, she found that she didn't want to—not really. She didn't have the heart for it. So when Jake had asked to tell his side of the story, Hannah had obliged, hoping with every fiber of her being that he could convince her of anything but what she was fearing.

He'd succeeded. But for what? Now they weren't even talking.

Although he'd eaten dinner a couple of times at the Ayers's house—probably to keep up the appearance that things were normal—Jake still hadn't been around much. When Patricia gushed over the return of Hannah's memory, Jake had made all of the appropriate comments and seemed genuinely happy; he'd even said a few things at the table in passing to Hannah, but that was it.

"Is that why you're so out of it, Han?" Tisha asked, not quite demandingly but not nicely either. "Because, really, is it worth it?"

"Jake and I made up," Hannah said suddenly. Tisha stared at her, clueless. "Yeah. I'm not even mad at him—or at least I wasn't." She looked at Tisha pointedly. "He kissed me, and he hasn't talked to me since."

"Oh."

Hannah glanced away from her friend, but she saw a very apologetic Tisha when she looked back. "That's why I've been kind of spacey. Sorry."

"Libby will kick his ass for this one," Tisha informed Hannah, resuming her stalking of Avalon. "I mean, it was hard enough to keep her from exploding on him before, but now…oh, it's on. I might kill him myself before she gets—"

"Don't do that," Hannah interrupted. She sighed softly and followed Tisha, who was following Avalon, into Hollister. The music, as usual, was blaring piercingly, so Hannah wasn't sure if Tisha could hear her, but she still said, "Let Jake do what he wants. I don't have the energy to keep up with it."

Tisha gave Hannah a saddened look. "I think Avalon went to the back," she said, trying to whisper loudly over the music but remain soft enough to stalk properly. "She's got good taste in clothes, I'll give her that."

Smiling, Hannah nodded and wandered behind Tisha, who was venturing toward the back of the store. Hannah glanced around, her attention grabbed by the powerful scent of cologne around her. To be less conspicuous to Avalon, they'd entered on the side of the store with guys' clothing, and Hannah loved the way it smelled. Browsing the cologne, her attention went right away to the bottle labeled 'Jake.'

Of course. There was no getting away from him.

As if to make some stubborn point, Hannah picked up the bottle with the scent SoCal and inhaled deeply. Her eyes widened drastically, however, and she slammed the bottle back down, stomping toward Tisha in annoyance. It was Jake's scent.

Of course. Because there really was no getting away from him.

For the love of all that was holy, why couldn't Jake just step up and let them be together? Hannah was going to lose her mind if she had to keep this up with him.

"Tisha, let's forget about it," Hannah semi-whined to her friend. "We'll just jump her when she comes out of the store."

"Mm…"

Tisha was distracted by almost molesting the collection of sweaters in the back room, and Hannah rolled her eyes. "Tish!" she exclaimed, grabbing her friend's arm and giving her a gentle tug toward the exit. "Let's go!"

Though she was muttering some kind of protest under her breath, Tisha followed in Hannah's footsteps, clearly sulking. "We went through all of that trouble, and we're not even going to follow through? God, Han! We were so damn close!"

"You were so damn close to buying new clothes, not stalking her," Hannah corrected, almost stomping in her hurry to get away from the Jake thoughts that came from being in Hollister with his scent. "And now I'm going to be closer than close to getting something to eat. Food court, my love…here I come."

- - -

"I'm so sore," Ethan complained moodily from the backseat of Brent's car, a sporty green Cougar. "How many more games could there possibly be left in this season?"

"Too many," Jake replied from the passenger seat. He rubbed his own shoulder gently; Ethan had every right to complain about soreness. There'd been entirely too many workouts, practices, and games for basketball lately. "All I ever want to do is sleep anymore."

"No kidding," Brent half laughed, slamming his breaks at the red light. "You've pretty much fallen asleep every night after dinner, no matter where you are."

"Dude! Whiplash!"

Jake laughed at Ethan's cry from behind him. "Suck it up, Ethan. What's a little more pain in the scheme of things?"

Ethan sighed heavily, shifting somehow and pressing his kneecaps into the back of Jake's seat. "I'm so glad you think so," he replied dryly, obviously trying to spread some more pain around.

Rolling his eyes, Jake raised his middle finger in response and held it behind him, probably in the vicinity of Ethan's face. "Brent?" he asked suddenly. "Where the hell are we going?"

"Seriously!" Ethan piped up, sounding agitated. "We're starving! We didn't know you were going to drive us forty minutes away to go eat!"

Brent shifted in his seat, a sure sign of anxiety. "Sorry… I've, uh, got to take something to Tisha." He smiled crookedly. "She's at the mall." Both Jake and Ethan groaned loudly. "Sorry!"

"What?" Ethan moaned in distress. "What could possibly be that important?"

"You're acting like her lapdog," Jake smirked. "Going anywhere for her."

"Yeah," Ethan agreed, scowling. "Didn't you stay up half the night Tuesday studying with her or something? Since when do you study?"

Jake scoffed. "Since he let put that leash around his neck."

"Shut up." Brent pulled a face but offered no more defense than that. "I'm supposed to take her my history notes because I won't get to see her tonight, since she has dance. She needs the notes before class tomorrow."

"A likely story," Ethan muttered under his breath. "Since when do you write down notes that anyone would want to use?"

"Hey, I take great notes, and I always have," Brent declared stubbornly, a scowl working its way onto his face. "Just shut the hell up talking and think about all the great places to eat over here."

"So is Tisha shopping alone?" Ethan asked, his tone pointed. Jake figured he was alluding to Hannah; he hadn't considered that. Ethan grew blunt about his allusions then. "Or is she with her friends?"

Brent's shrug was not convincing.

"That would be a yes," Ethan translated, a sardonic note in his voice. "That would be a major yes, Jake."

"Hannah's with her, huh?" Jake guessed. When Brent didn't answer, Jake knew that he'd guessed right. "Well. That's cool."

Ethan leaned forward so that his head was poking out between the two front seats. "Whatever happened with you guys, Jake?" he asked, sounding more concerned than Jake was used to hearing from him. "Are you still fighting or what?"

"I don't know," Jake answered honestly, staring out the window dejectedly. "I've been so busy with basketball that I haven't got to see her. I thought she would've texted me by now though."

Brent gave him an odd look. "Why?"

Jake shrugged. "I thought we made up. I asked her where we stood, and she said she didn't know." He shrugged again, not knowing what else to do. "I figured she'd let me know when she figured it out."

"Oh," Brent replied, nodding in understanding. "Yeah, that makes sense."

"I don't think girls think that way," Ethan said doubtfully, his forehead wrinkled in thought. He shook his head slowly. "I'm pretty sure you were supposed to make the first move, Jake. Girls like it when guys do that."

Startled, Jake turned to stare at Ethan. "You think so? What was I supposed to do? I was trying to give her space to sort things out."

"You know, I think Ethan's got a point," Brent commented as he parked in the mall's parking lot. "Girls are real funny about that kind of thing. Maybe you should've called her or something."

"You could have even texted her," Ethan agreed, now nodding eagerly. "Hell, Jake, you're neighbors. You could've gone to see her."

"And say what?" Jake questioned dubiously.

Brent looked at him like he was an idiot. "Whatever you want her to know."

Jake considered this. It seemed like a good plan in theory. If Hannah wasn't going to come to him, then he could go to her. Ethan was right—girls did tend to like it when guys made the first move. Clearly, Hannah was taking her sweet time about making a move, if she was even going to, so it was up to him to start the ball rolling or the boat rocking, whichever was going to happen.

He almost placed a mental bet on the boat rocking. Or sinking.

When the guys went into the mall, Jake and Ethan let Brent lead, as Jake was focused mainly on what he was going to say to Hannah. He didn't want to look weak and needy by asking her what was going on because she could also take that as him being demanding. But Jake knew better than to wait on her now because he'd been waiting on her…to absolutely no avail. Right now, he was going in without a clear plan, and it was sort of unnerving.

Ethan nudged his shoulder suddenly. "There's your girl, Jake."

Sure enough, standing in the line to get ice cream in the food court was Hannah, a contemplative expression on her face. Something snapped in Jake. How hard could this be? He knew what he wanted—Hannah—and he thought she maybe kind of wanted him too. That was his goal, and he felt rather confident about it.

The distance across the food court seemed to disappear beneath Jake's feet. Before he knew it, he was standing behind Hannah, blanking as the seconds passed. Huh. Now what?

"I'd go for butter pecan," he said suddenly.

Hannah whipped around to face Jake, and nothing but surprise lit up on her face. "You would?" she asked, her forehead wrinkling. Jake grinned back at her. "I'm not a big fan of pecans."

"Fudge ripple then."

Tilting her head to the side, Hannah considered that. "Okay," she agreed easily, stepping up to order her ice cream from the ice cream scooper. "Three scoops of fudge ripple, please, in a cup."

Jake stepped up beside her. "And two scoops of butter pecan on a sugar cone," he added. He glanced at Hannah and smiled. "My treat."

She looked suspicious briefly, but her face relaxed, and Hannah returned his smile. "Thanks."

Jake and Hannah took turns switching from watching each other and watching their ice cream being prepared. It was mildly awkward, standing there and not knowing what to do or say.

"How have you been?" Hannah asked finally. She was still a little upset that Jake had gone so long without talking to her; it was completely random for him to appear now. "I haven't seen you in awhile."

"Basketball's been kicking my ass." Jake met her eyes, trying to think of a way to let her know he'd been waiting on her without sounding accusatory. "What about you? Where have you been lately?"

"Not much of anywhere," Hannah answered honestly, her eyelashes sweeping down in a grand blink. She accepted her ice cream and said her thanks. "I've…kinda missed seeing you around."

Jake relaxed his shoulders. "I've missed seeing you too."

Uncertainly, Hannah nodded back to him, and the pair migrated to a nearby table to eat their ice cream. Both of them tended to their snacks silently for several moments, both lost in thought and worry.

At last, Jake took a deep breath. Hannah wanted him to make the first move? Fine, he'd take the initiative. "Look, um, I'm sorry I haven't been in touch much with you lately." He rolled his cone between his fingers. "I was trying to give you time to think about everything. I didn't know if you were still mad."

Hannah surprised him by smiling. "You weren't avoiding me because you changed your mind about me?"

Jake looked at her oddly. "No."

"Just checking." Hannah sighed softly, though the smile never left her eyes. "Jake, can we stop the bullshit and just get together already?"

Laughing, Jake was thoroughly shocked, not to mention impressed. "You want to do that, Han? Let it go and get it together just like that?" His lips were twitching with the urge to smile at the thought. "Don't get me wrong—I'd love that. But…you'd be okay with it? You've been pissed at me lately."

"And you've been pissed at me for your whole life," Hannah countered. She set her spoon down in her ice cream. "We're going in circles at this point. Either we're in or we're out, and I'm in."

Hannah watched Jake weigh that in his mind. She really was tired of this—both of them being scared to make the next move. Since she'd already gotten hurt, Hannah decided it didn't matter if she just put herself all the way out there again. At least this time they were communicating.

"I'm definitely in," Jake answered softly, a smile plastered on his face.

Instantly, a grin formed on Hannah's face. Had she been with her girls and felt this much excitement, she would have squealed in excitement, but she forced herself to refrain. Instead, she leaned over the table, and kissed Jake softly. He returned the kiss, and their lips stayed locked together lengthily.

"One condition." Jake motioned across the food court, where Tisha and Brent were watching their table intently, both looking smug and pleased with themselves. "You get to tell Brent and Tisha. From the looks of things, they're going to be pretty cocky about the news."

Hannah followed Jake's hand and wrinkled her nose at the sight. "We were totally set up." She glanced back at Jake and shrugged. "It's a deal though…but I've got a condition for you."

"Okay. Sure."

Cheekily, Hannah grinned at him, smugness now showing on her face as well. "You get to tell our mothers."

"That's not funny," Jake deadpanned. He swiped the spoon from her ice cream and brandished it at her threateningly. "It's not an even trade at all."

Hannah scoffed. "I never pretended that it would be."

"You hate me," Jake sighed, shaking his head. "I'm convinced of it now."

Those big blue eyes of Hannah's rolled majestically. "Jake Allen, I have been crazy about you for longer than you even know. Don't give me that."

Just hearing it from her straight made Jake grin unwillingly, all pretense of sulking vanishing. "All right, Hannah Ayers. You win."


A/N: First of all, I want to say thanks to everyone who read and/or reviewed "The Apocalypse." Your support meant a whole lot to me! :) I really hope you enjoyed reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it! I'm a little sad about ending it, but I'm really excited to get divulged in the mischief and mayhem of "The Brat Pack." Again, thank you so much for reading and reviewing! :)