There are some defeats more triumphant than victories.

Michel De Montaigne (1533 – 1592)


Cady was laughing so hard she thought she might spontaneously combust.

Hayden was dancing around her kitchen in her mother's apron, looking for food that he knew how to make. (Sadly, this was limited to toast, which he often burnt, and cereal, which he often spilled everywhere while trying to pour it.)

Her parents were both at work and her two older brothers were both at college, so he had to cheer her up somehow. His mere presence would be enough, he thought, but he'd better do something extra just in case.

"Hayden," Cady said in between gasps of laughter. "Stop before you hurt yourself."

"I have everything under control ma'm," he assured her in his fighter-pilot voice. "Please leave this to the professionals."

Roughly an hour later, the two of them were sitting on her roof with a plate of slightly burnt (hey—Cady had helped make them) toast between them.

"So," Hayden said with his mouth half full of toast, trying to be nonchalant. However, with his bright blonde hair and bright blue eyes, and very lanky, wiry way of holding himself, nonchalant was an achievement similar to finding the Holy Grail. "There's this girl."

"Mmhmm?" Cady prompted him to continue.

"And, you know, she's really pretty and smart and funny and mature and—"

"Oh Hayden," she almost choked on her toast from trying to keep her face straight. "You're flattering me."

He rolled his eyes, trying not to smile. "I'm serious," he said. She was about to laugh at him again, but she could have sworn he was blushing slightly.

"Okay, okay," she said. "So who's the lucky girl?"

"Do you know, uh, Zoë?" he said hesitantly, waiting for her approval.

"The one who sits at the table next to us at lunch?"

"Uh, yeah, the one who—"

"Ahh!" Cady shrieked. Hayden had no idea whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. "Zoë? Aw! She's so cute. You guys would be so cute! You're both so skinny and blonde and hyper and cute!"

He tried very hard to look cool, calm and collected, but couldn't help but grin. If there was one person who could make him feel better no matter what, it was Cady.

"Hayden, you idiot!" Cady groaned the next day. It was the first time she'd seen him after he'd tried to talk to Zoë. It was clear that things hadn't gone well. First of all, Hayden had a black eye.

"How was I supposed to know she had a boyfriend?" he demanded, trying to shove her hands away as she dabbed at his eye with a wet paper towel, trying to get the little bit of bleeding to stop.

"Because you know her pretty well?" Cady tried, raising an eyebrow.

"Who said I knew her pretty well?" he wanted to know.

Cady rolled her eyes and went back into the girls' bathroom to get a new paper towel. They were missing lunch, of course, but she figured that she could just sneak some food in one of the many insanely hard classes her parents had forced her to take that year. Maybe if she took long enough, she could avoid going to one of them.

She always felt awkward in her AP honors classes, wishing she was back in plain ol' regulars with Hayden. Everyone had told her kids would be nicer in the nerd classes… but in reality, everyone was just more polite. They were just as self righteous as any other kids. Maybe even more so.

She didn't fit in very well because she never took anything seriously. Whenever they were supposed to be reading classics during English, Cady cracked jokes while the teacher tried to talk about symbolism. When they were supposed to be doing labs in Physics, she ignored the instructions and tried her own experiments. History essays were on the same plane with The Lord of the Rings.

Needless to say, she wasn't ever exactly a teacher's pet.

She sighed and went back outside to finish cleaning up a very sulky Hayden. When she got back out, however, she found that he had disappeared. She knew he'd been embarrassed about the whole thing, but she wished he wouldn't. Having two brothers she'd seen enough of boys to not have any interest in them until they'd gotten older and more mature, but Hayden seemed to think having a girlfriend was vital to his status as a teenager.

"Hayden," she called flatly. "Aw, come on, silly, it doesn't look that bad—"

As she turned the corner, she smacked straight into someone. She was really going to have to learn not to cut corners so quickly. Expecting it to be Hayden, she started to say something. But then she realized it wasn't.

"You—oh," Cady said, the disappointment in her voice very obvious. She looked up at the scruffy, impeccably dressed, debate team, full of political information nerd that was in several of her classes. "Sorry, I thought you were someone else."

"Your boyfriend went that way," Johnny responded, pointing towards the lunchroom. He had another punk-rocker band t-shirt underneath his button-up, Cady noticed. She rolled her eyes, a) because that was the only response she gave to anyone who called Hayden her boyfriend (he most certainly wasn't), and b) because his stupid t-shirts were another way that he, one of the so-called smart kids, made her feel less knowledgeable. She'd never heard of a single one of the groups he listened to, and he acted like it was like she didn't know who George Washington was.

"Did you guys get into a fight?" he added as she brushed passed him. "Or was that just the weirdest hickey ever?"

She glanced back at him, and could have sworn he winced at something before going back to being overconfident. She rolled her eyes extra high, just in case he'd missed it the first time.

It was going to be a long year.

Hayden smiled sheepishly as he saw Cady coming towards him as he stood in the doorway of the cafeteria. She was mad until he told her that a teacher had made him leave the hallway, accusing him of loitering (the fact that he looked like he'd just gotten into a fight didn't help his situation). He'd never say it to her face, but it was hilarious when Cady got mad. He certainly hoped he'd never be on the wrong end of the stick.

He was, admittedly, very embarrassed about the Zoë situation. He envied Cady because she didn't mind having a majority of guy friends, but never dating any of them. It was different for guys, though, he insisted. Guys expected each other to, you know. Play the field. (Cady had kicked him when he phrased it like that, however, so he avoided it.)

They sat and talked about what happened with Zoë, Cady joking and making him laugh so he felt at least temporarily better. As soon as the period was over, though, and she left, he was depressed again.

He sulked all the way to his next class, Theatre Tech. He didn't even get to work hard and distract himself. They did virtually nothing in that class but occasionally listen to the teacher talk about all of his accomplishments in thee-ah-ter.

He sat down with the only friend he had in that class (who also happened to be the only other kid in the class who wasn't a freshman and roughly the size of a penny).

"Hey man," Johnny said, not glancing up from the newspaper he was reading. Johnny may have been a nerd, but Hayden admired his ability to just seem cool. He was smart, funny, but most importantly he could talk so fast that any girl he spoke to was convinced he was smart and funny no matter what came out of his mouth.

"Hey," Hayden sighed dejectedly, plopping down next to him, shivering slightly in the freezing air of the giant, echoing auditorium.

"What's wrong?" Johnny cocked an eyebrow, looking up. Hayden almost started laughing at the article he was reading, which was something about some foreign country that, though he'd never admit it, made no difference to Hayden whatsoever. He'd much rather take Zoë on a date than create world peace. "You and your girlfriend actually got into a fight?"

"What?" Hayden blinked. That didn't even make sense.

"You and Ca—you know. That Cady chick," he shrugged. "I just saw her a few minutes ago. She looked mad."

"Oh yeah. She's fine now. I didn't know you guys knew each other," he said.

"Oh," Johnny said. "So she's never, you know, mentioned me?"

"Why would she?" Hayden laughed.

"Because… uh, because she hates my guts," he grinned evilly.

He laughed again, but this time skeptically. "No she doesn't. Cady doesn't hate anyone. She's never even in a bad mood."

"Well I'm sure she's not around you," Johnny shrugged. "You're her boyfriend, after all."

"Dude," Hayden snorted. "I'm not her boyfriend. She and I dating would be like… it'd be like you and me dating."

Johnny raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure about that?" he said thoughtfully. "'Cause as far as I've seen, guys and girls never stay just friends."

"Well, Cady and I are just friends," Hayden blinked, slightly confused. Honestly, he'd never really thought about he and Cady dating. People teased them so much about it that it had become second nature.

"Uh-huh," Johnny said, clearly not believing him. "Girls and guys can never be just friends. They try to be, and then something happens."

"S-something?" Hayden stammered.

"You know what I mean," Johnny said, a bit annoyed because actually he didn't know what he meant either. "So what are you guys, like, friends with benefits?"

"Eck," Hayden shuddered. "No. We're just friends. Seriously."


"It's true!" he said exasperatedly. "Like, today I tried to ask Zoë Morton out… I just didn't know she had a boyfriend."

"Obviously," Johnny raised his eyebrows, looking over Hayden's black eye. "But you would have just dumped her pretty soon anyway."

"I… would have?" Hayden blinked.

"Duh," he shrugged. "Because you'd constantly be around Cady, and you'd be tempted."

"I'd be what?" Hayden demanded.

"Dude, think about it," Johnny insisted. "What's not to like about her? You might as well figure it out sooner or later."

"Well," Hayden said thoughtfully. "She does cheer me up. And she's really funny."

"And?" Johnny prompted.

"She punches like a guy," he added. "That's pretty cool."

Johnny rolled his eyes. Somehow he wasn't surprised.

"Well then…" he said thoughtfully. "How do I get her to like me?"

"Well, just—" Johnny looked like he was prepared for an in-depth explanation, but seemed to think better of it. In fact, he looked a little bit upset about something. "I talk too much, you know that, Hayden?"

"Maybe she already likes me," he said excitedly. "I mean, why not?" he looked down at himself, however, and this seemed to answer his question. "Well, it couldn't be too hard to get her to like me. We already have fun all the time."

"You know what?" he said. "Maybe I was wrong. Maybe you two don't—"

"Ha, that'll show Zoë," he added. "And, I mean, I wouldn't really mind dating Cady. It would be just like normal, except we'd, like…"

"Make out like the world's ending tomorrow?" Johnny suggested.

Hayden gulped. "Uh…" he said. "I don't know if I can do, it, though, man. I'm not so good with girls. But… what if you helped me?"

"Help you?" Johnny sounded a little distressed. "Look, I don't think… I'm a busy man, Hayden, I…" he rolled his eyes at the pleading look on his face. "Look, I don't think it's my place to… I can't… but I…"

"There's no way I can do it without you, man," Hayden pleaded. "And I don't want Cady to think I don't think she's special or whatever. Because she is."

"Fine," he grumbled. "You know what? Fine. But you owe me, dude."

Cady had been attempting to paint her nails when her cell phone rang. She loved it when her cell phone rang—she loved it so much, in fact, that she accidentally hit her hand against the side of her bed (which she'd been leaning against), rubbing half of her polish off.

She just glared at it and picked up her phone happily, seeing that it was Hayden calling. It was Friday night, and they always did stuff on Fridays, usually in a large group with their other closest friends.

"Hey," she said perkily. "What's up?"

"Aagghmmllf," Hayden said.

"Um…" she blinked. "Pardon?"

"Do you wanna gotothemovieswithme?" he rushed.

"Uh, I think there's static or something," she raised an eyebrow suspiciously.

"I did ask polite—fine," she heard him hiss. She decided his mom must have been nagging him about something or other. "Would. You. Like. To. Go. To. The. Movies. With. Me?" he said slowly.

"Duh," she said. "We always go to the movies on Fridays."

"Well, I mean like a—"

"I'll meet you there at six, okay?" she said. "I've gotta finish doing my nails."

"Wait a minute; you're doing your nails—ow! Don't pinch me!" he growled.

She laughed and snapped her phone shut, rolling her eyes and blowing at her nails. Hayden sounded like that half the time they were on the phone, because his little sister always wanted it.

She preferred to talk to people in person anyway. And as soon as six rolled around, they'd get to hang out like always, without interference.

"Well, it could have gone worse," Johnny shrugged as Hayden hit his forehead on the phone multiple times.

"She's gonna think I'm crazy," he groaned, shoving the phone back into the charger. "I am crazy."

"Not as crazy as me," Johnny assured him, sighing. "Look, do you want this girl or not?"


"Then you have to stay focused," he said. "So, as soon as you see her, tell her she looks nice. Then make all of the stuff you talk about be about her. It'll make her feel special, see. And once she feels special, you can kiss her."

"Is it… that easy?" Hayden blinked.

"Well no, it's not easy," he laughed. "Here, let me show you."


"Okay," he said. "So I'm you, you're Cady."

"But I wanna be—"

"Wow, you look pretty," Johnny said, grinning.

"Um," Hayden blinked.

"So, how's your sculpture coming?"

"How did you know she—"

"Aw, I bet it's gorgeous," Johnny winked. "It's yours, after all."

"She'd punch me."

"I'm so glad it's finally six," he gushed, clearly trying to stifle laughter. "I now I finally have a face to match with my thoughts."

"If any guy said that to her," Hayden said. "I'd punch him."

"Okay, okay," he laughed. "I was kidding, anyway. The first couple of things, though, I promise you, man. Cady may be different, but she's still a girl. She likes that junk."

"I don't know—"

"Trust me, it'll be perfect."

Hayden was skeptical (in fact, he didn't believe Johnny at all), but he figured he must have known better than he did. Johnny wasn't the one with the black eye, after all.

They agreed to keep Hayden's cell phone on and on a call so he could get a general idea of how things were turning out. He'd sit in the back of the theatre Hayden and Cady were in so he could send him text messages telling him what to do and say. If all else failed, he would intervene.

Really, what could go wrong?

Hayden arrived at the "courtyard" of the theatre a little before six. Cady was always late, so she wouldn't assume he'd made an extra effort. With Johnny's help, he'd made sure to look only slightly nicer than usual. That way she'd detect it, but she wouldn't consciously notice anything. (...Johnny may have been cool, but he could sound like a science textbook sometimes.)

He saw her before she saw him. She was searching the courtyard with her eyes, looking completely lost. He attempted to shout to get her attention, but a strange pterodactyl-like squawk escaped him, causing a group of passing girls to burst into giggles. He blushed and nervously checked his pocket to make sure his cell phone was still in the correct position to keep open for text messages. It was. He hoped that that would calm him down, but it didn't. His stomach turned over when he looked back up and Cady was headed back towards him.

"Hey you," Cady said, grinning, whacking him in the side as means of saying hello. Hayden mumbled something, though he wasn't quite sure what he was trying to say.

"You sure you're okay?" she cocked her head to the side, looking concerned. "I think maybe that punch didn't just give you a black eye."

"W-what?" he snorted, grinning and forgetting in his embarrassment and the ridiculousness of much of what Cady said that he was supposed to be trying to win her over romantically. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, I think you know what I mean," she grinned evilly. "So, what're we gonna see?"

Either a chick flick or a horror movie, Johnny had said. The memory of this made Hayden start to feel sick at his stomach again. If it's a chick flick, she'll start crying into your shoulder. If it's a horror movie, she'll freak out and cover her eyes in your shoulder. Scary's probably better though, so you don't fall asleep.

"Um, how about..." he glanced at the poster for the newest horror flick, Hell Homicide III. He shuddered at the thought. If anything, he would be hiding in Cady's shoulder.

"Ooh, neat," Cady said, seeing him looking at the poster. He wanted to slap himself. "I always thought you were scared of scary movies. Sweet, we can laugh at it and throw popcorn at the screen."


Ten minutes later, they were waiting in line for popcorn. The smell was making Hayden sick. He wasn't so sure that he had any idea what he was doing... in fact, he had the same strange sensation that he had on the first day of school every year. Especially that of the year he thought that he didn't know a single person in his lunch (which was a horror that rivaled that of the movie they were about to see.)

He felt his pocket vibrate. He glanced down, and the screen of his cell phone was lit up, and there were a few words on it. If you guys get something to eat, remember to pay for everything. Hayden rolled his eyes. Johnny, no matter how hard he tried, could never fully escape being a nerd. Who else spelled everything perfectly while text messaging?

He glanced at the counter. Cady was, though she denied it, the most likely person he'd even known to have ADHD without actually being medicated. According to her wealthy grandmother, she was "scrawny," having a boyish figure caused by, said grandmother insisted, by playing outdoors so much. Although it wasn't exactly lady-like that there was a big bag of popcorn, candy, and a big soda waiting for her on the counter. Hayden had to wonder where it all went.

She pulled some wadded up bills out of her pocket and dropped them on the counter, the remainder of her money being pennies. "Man I love doing this," she grinned, counting them out.

"Uh," Hayden stammered. "I'll pay."

"Don't be silly," she laughed. "It won't take that long."

"No really, I insist," he said. It was something his relatives said to each other a lot when they went out to eat together. "I'll take care of it."

"Well, if you insist," she giggled. He sounded like a butler to her. She started to put the candy back, but he stopped her. "Well in that case..." she grinned evilly, wondering what he was up to. She pulled off another bag and plunked it down, waiting for his reaction. He smiled assuringly, wondering if Cady was on to him, or if that's just how she always was when someone offered to pay for her. From what Johnny had said, it sounded like all of this should have been easier than it was turning out to be.

She shoved her money back into her back pocket and then led him towards the theatre. He felt utterly un-masculine. In fact, he was starting to wonder if it had been such a surprise that he'd recently been punched in the face. Though, in his defense, Cady had always been a bit... domineering. That's one reason they'd gotten along so well. Cady made Hayden less shy, and Hayden made Cady less impulsive.

They sat down in almost the front row, at Cady's insistence, and then waited for the movie to start. Even the commercials were making Hayden's heart rate go up. All of the times he jumped, Cady started giggling. It certainly wasn't helping him be smooth.

He'd sent Johnny a message while she wasn't looking telling what movie they were going to see. He textually laughed, which wasn't a good sign.

"So, um," Hayden said nervously, trying to think back to things Johnny had said to say. "Wow, you look pretty."

"Thanks," Cady said, acting as if that was something he said every day. "You smell pretty."

"Uh..." he looked like a deer in the headlights. Johnny had insisted that more cologne was better than less, but the stuff in his dad's cabinet had been a present for his parents' anniversary. It was probably expensive and probably worked very well. "So, how's your sculpture coming?"

She raised an eyebrow at him. "My brother barfed in it, remember? I thought we agreed not to talk about that."

Oops. How could he have forgotten? Her older brother was notorious for... well, just about everything. But when he'd come home from college in the middle of the day drunk and barfed in Cady's prize-winning vase, anything relating to the situation had become a sore subject. "Sorry," he mumbled.

"It's okay," she sighed, laughing. "Actually it's kind of funny now that I think about it."

When Cady dropped something and had to lean over to pick it up, Hayden saw his opportunity. He pulled the armrest up between them, but forgot that there was a drink in the cup holder. He thought, as he grabbed the end of the armrest, that maybe it was starting to go right. She didn't seem to notice as he yanked it up.

Unfortunately, he'd forgotten that there was, in fact, a slushie in the cup holder. A completely full drink, with a very loose lid. (Cady wasn't very good at matching the proper sizes of lids and cups.)

Fortunately (if he looked at it the right way), it spilled all over himself and not on Cady. (Much.) On the other hand, he looked like a victim straight out of the movie.

"What did you do?" Cady giggled as she sat back up, looking him over. "What, did it get stuck or something?" He didn't see how that was funny, but Cady must have thought it was, because it made her start laughing even harder. He was glad it was dark so she couldn't see him blushing.

"I'm gonna go wash this off really fast," he mumbled. "I'll be right back."

He got up before she could answer and scurried out of the theatre, cold slushie burning his skin in several places. Either he was a really, really klutzy person in general, or the fates were against him. He decided to go with the latter.

He got off as much as he could with paper towels, ignoring all of the looks from the other guys in the bathroom, and pulled out his phone, punching in words exasperatedly. i spild slushy al ovr myslf, he wrote. wht do i do?

Well it's probably still good, Johnny wrote back. Hayden was surprised how fast he responded. Ask Cady to lick it off for you.

this is srs!1, he grumbled to himself as he sent it.

It would be a lot easier if you'd speak English, Johnny said.

come 2 teh bthrm, plz, he finished, and then snapped his phone shut and looked in the mirror. When he got frustrated with that he walked towards the door, not knowing if Johnny was even at the theatre. He hadn't seen him. He was so frustrated, in fact, that he shoved the door open as hard as he could just to let out some of it.

Unfortunately there was someone on the other side of the door. "Holy—" Hayden said as he looked down at a rather hefty, balding older-middle-age man, who did not look happy.

"Stupid kids!" he growled, looking up at him. "This is why I never come to the movies anymore, Lisa! Why can't we just buy them, I asked you? It's not like I don't have the money! We could see them before they even—you!" the man roared at Hayden as he offered a hand to help him up, which he quickly yanked back towards him.

It was good that this was a rather large man, and that his wife actually looked more amused than concerned, because this gave Hayden a chance to make a run for it. However, much to Hayden's dismay, the scene was not going to play out like a Home Alone movie. When he turned around to make a break for it, there was a police man standing with his arms crossed, and he did not look happy.

The next thing Hayden knew, he was standing outside in the crisp, cold air, and was very, very confused.

Cady was getting very bored trying to watch a scary movie without anyone sitting by her. To her, being with someone was really the only entertaining thing about scary movies… and really about most things in general. She was the sort of girl that would pick eating with her friends over going to her favorite restaurant.

And therefore, while she might have forked over eight bucks for the ticket, there was no way that she was going to stay without Hayden (who, after being gone for almost ten minutes, was clearly having issues.)

Cady tried to move out quickly, but clearly it was not quickly enough. The theatre, which was full of already noisy teenagers, became even noisier. When she got pelted in the head with a box of gummy bears, even though she was power-walking (an activity which she despised on principal), she was about to retaliate. Unfortunately before this was possible, she smashed into someone.

"Excuse—" she looked up to see Jonathan Saterlee with a pained expression on his face. "You."

"Oh, well, that's polite," he rolled his eyes.

"You were in my way," she shrugged, and started to walk around him. Unfortunately, he followed.

"I'm not sure you want to see Hayden right now," he said hesitantly.

"Why not?" she glared, even though she guessed he couldn't see this anyway as they passed through the darkest part of the short hallway between the theatre and the light in the lobby. "Of course I do."

"Because," he said, looking, for once, as if he didn't know the answer. "He's indisposed."

"I only speak English," she informed him. "Do you really need to compensate for something that badly?"

"E-excuse me?" he blinked.

"With all your big, fancy words," she shrugged. "Sounds like you're making up for something else."

"I," Johnny sputtered, opening and closing his mouth a few times before he spoke again. "Have nothing to say to that."

"Do you know where Hayden is?" Cady wanted to know, glancing around the lobby and not seeing him. She sincerely hoped he wasn't actually spending that much time in the bathroom.

"You know that really wasn't a very big word," he seemed to be completely ignoring the fact that Hayden seemed to have gotten lost in the movie theatre. "Debilitated would have been less common, I'm guessing, based on the demographics of the area—"

"Is that him outside on the bench?" she demanded to no one in particular (mostly because she was trying to ignore Johnny.) "Omigosh!"

Johnny had started to say something, but Cady had already run off by the time the first words escaped him, and so she didn't hear any of it. If Johnny had been trying to protect Hayden's dignity, which she guessed was what was going on, hiding him certainly wasn't helping. If anything it just made him look sillier.

She ran out to where he was, and plopped down next to him, even though he looked as if someone had just told him they were making carrot salad for his birthday dinner.

"What on Earth happened?" Cady demanded, trying really very hard not to smile. (It wasn't working.)

Hayden looked hesitant to say anything at first, but when Cady made a puppy dog face he told her every detail without thinking about it. As soon as the last words left him he realized how intensely embarrassed he was all of the sudden, but Cady, much to his surprise, didn't laugh.

"And I just… well…" he considered telling her the part about Johnny trying to help him win her over, but he decided to condense that part a little bit to try and salvage the last scraps of his dignity. "I just… I was kind of maybe hoping that I was thinking that this was sort of… a date."

"A wha—" For a moment, Cady's heart stopped and her stomach flipped over and her fingers and toes tingled.

Hayden? Hayden? Her and Hayden on a date? It struck her as funny that just then she looked at him, really looked at him, as if she was someone else besides his best friend. It was sort of the opposite of déjà vu, the sort of feeling she got when she saw herself in a glance in a mirror that she wasn't expecting, seeing herself as a stranger. Something you know you've seen before but it's as if you're seeing it for the first time.

She never really realized that he'd changed since they met in elementary school, that he'd gotten taller than her, that he'd become square-jawed and muscular, and that he really did smell kind of nice.

"You did all of that for me?" she squeaked.

He nodded.

"Oh, Hayden, you loser," she sighed dramatically and threw her arms around him, burying her head in his chest. In truth, she probably wouldn't have noticed a difference between then and any of the other times she'd hugged him, except for the fact that it was very cold outside and she'd left her jacket at home because she liked to let people know that she wasn't a sissy, and he was really, really warm.

She pulled away and looked up at him because he seemed to be a bit nervous by the way he'd stiffened up. Her stomach felt funny again, because she realized that their faces were approximately two micrometers (see, she had been paying attention in Physics) apart.

Only, when he started to get even closer to her (whilst she was realizing that she had someone turned her breathing off and was trying to locate the on switch), something seemed to hit Hayden in the back of the head.

"Aahrg!" he cried, the hand that he had managed to get to stop shaking long enough to put behind Cady flying up to protect any further attacks. "What the—"

Cady hopped up really quickly to see if she could spot who threw it, and sure enough she saw a group of Jr. High School aged looking boys in clothes that were entirely too baggy for their body types laughing and pointing at them. They all seemed to be wearing the same lime green lanyard around their necks, making them look like a bunch of miniature gang members.

She opened her mouth and breathed in to yell at them, but Hayden jumped up next to her and impulsively touched her hand lightly with his fingers. She was so surprised that she forgot what she was doing and looked up at him.

"So, uh," he said, blushing suddenly. "Do you wanna, like, maybe, you know… go out on a real date sometime?"

"Y-yeah," Cady said hesitantly, and then laughed. Why was she being so awkward around Hayden? It was Hayden for crying out loud, not some boy. (Not that Hayden wasn't a boy, because he totally was. Cady felt a bit mean after thinking that, so she compensated by forcing a very, very large smile. It was painful, but it seemed to make Hayden happy.) "Sure. Of course. It'll be fun."

"Yeah," he said, his mind going completely blank. He looked at Cady and really thought about how pretty she was for the first time. Maybe Johnny was right. Maybe he had just been avoiding this all along.

Normally Hayden saw Cady before first period, but he accidentally woke up late that day and didn't get to school until he had just enough time to get to class before the bell rang. When he got to third period, the one class they had together, they had a test and couldn't talk. When he got to lunch, she only saw him for a second before she had to the library with one of her super-smart honors groups to work on a class project.

When he got to Theatre Tech with Johnny, he was completely exhausted for no reason.

"Whoa," Hayden heard Johnny say after a minute or two of staring into space. "What's eating you?"

"I asked Cady on a real date and she said yes but she sounded weird and I haven't seen her all day except for the times that I have but they didn't count and I don't know if she likes me or not or if she's just being nice because she's always nice unless somebody's rude to her and—"

"Whoa," Johnny cocked an eyebrow. "Whoa now, hold on there partner. You actually went through with it?"

Hayden nodded.

"And she said yes?"

He nodded again. "Yeah, she… why do you sound so surprised?" he demanded.

Johnny grinned devilishly, shrugging simply. "You aren't exactly …articulate."

"That's because I'm a normal person who doesn't read the dictionary for fun," Hayden informed him. "I don't have any trouble breathing unless I'm nervous."

"But I said…" Johnny sighed. "Never mind. You said she sounded hesitant?"

"Yeah," Hayden shrugged, shifting in his seat. "I guess. I don't know. Normally I can talk good around her, it's just that once that I kept freezing up. I don't know what came over me. She probably thinks I went crazy or something."

"You probably did," Johnny agreed. "You should probably quit while you're ahead."

Hayden ignored him. "But she probably knows I was nervous. She seemed nervous too. But I don't know how to fix that. You know how whenever you first meet someone and it just takes one sentence to break the ice, but you never know what that one thing is going to be?"

"Yeah, but with you and Cady it's probably just permanent awkwardness since you've known each other for so long."

"If I could just have more time to think of what to say… Like a speech or something. But less specific so I wouldn't sound like I was forcing it," Hayden was looking off into the distance, tapping his foot in concentration. He was almost to a solution, he could just feel it…

"You mean like a love letter?" Johnny laughed disgustedly at the thought.

"A love letter?" Hayden blinked, furrowing his eyebrows and looking over at Johnny. "Well, nah, didn't even come to mind… but dude. Dude!"

"Wait a minute," Johnny put his hands out as if he was stopping traffic. "Whoa, hold the phone, I was just—"

"That's perfect! Cady would be so surprised! She definitely wouldn't expect me to write a love letter, of all people. I mean dude, I have a D in English. It's my worst subject. It's perfect! She'll be so… oh crap."

"Crap is right," Johnny agreed. "If you can't write, you shouldn't try a love letter. Most good writers can't even write junk about love."

"Arg… ugh…" Hayden grunted, furthermore proving his verbal abilities. "Wait a minute! I've got it!"

"Crap, I don't like the sound of this—"

"What if you write one for me? You're good at writing! Dude, did you say you wanted to be a writer?" Hayden said, looking more wide eyed and innocent than ever. Johnny could see why it was so easy to be friends with Hayden, even though they really didn't have much in common (at all). He'd always really admired the two of them, though he'd never actually admit any of this, because they weren't as petty and gossiping as most high school kids. They were perfect for each other.

"I don't know," Johnny's voice cracked, revealing the most miniscule moment of nervousness that he would ever let on around Hayden (who didn't notice.)

"Come on man," Hayden pleaded. "I can't do this alone. I'll pay you back somehow. I mean, it'll be even better. You know I keep my promises."

"Yeah," Johnny grunted. "I don't know. I guess. Maybe. On one condition," he signed finally.

"Uh huh?" Hayden cocked his head to the side.

"Don't tell Cady I had anything to do with this."

"Deal," Hayden nodded.

Johnny grunted.

Love is stupid and lovers cannot think
Of anything more substantial than poetry;
For if they could, Hayden would finally get laid

"You are so weird," Hayden said, snatching the pencil out of Johnny's hand. "This is serious!"

"It is serious!" Johnny insisted. "It's satirical."

"Your mom is satirical," Johnny thought he heard Hayden mutter. That was another thing Johnny liked about Hayden. He didn't feel the need to try and beat Johnny's vocabulary. (When most people did this, they ended up sounding like idiots.) Hayden was not afraid to be himself.

Unless, apparently, it involved writing a love letter to his best friend.

"Maybe I could just expand on something that already exists," Hayden suggested, starting to write.

Your eyes are libidinous pools—

"That isn't what you wanted to write," Johnny stifled a laugh. "Trust me."


"Whatever, poetry is stupid anyway," Johnny said. "Just write what you really think."

Uh, Cady. You are really pretty and I have known you for a very long time and I think it would be fun if we dated and stuff.

Johnny rolled his eyes. "Ugh," he grunted. "Just… you… I… look. I don't feel good about this, because I think you should be doing this yourself, but I'll write you a letter if you think it'll make Cady happy."

"Really?" Hayden beamed.

"Really," Johnny rolled his eyes. "But you're gonna have to let me give it to you tomorrow so I have some time to think. I can't write with you hovering, you know."

"Right," Hayden nodded.

"Just list for me the things you like about her, I guess," Johnny added, handing him the sheet of paper.

When Hayden was done, Johnny read it over quickly and then shoved it in his pocket. For someone who made such good grades, he was awfully disorganized. Hayden said goodbye and went home, hoping he could manage to avoid talking to Cady until he could give her that note. He had a feeling that it would solve all of his problems.

Hayden was about to hyperventilate.

He was in the courtyard under the tree that Johnny had specified… but he was nowhere in sight. Now, of course, Johnny had a tendency to be a little bit late to… well, everything. But this was different. This was important. This was important because Hayden had no backup plan.

He sat down by the tree and looked up into it, breathing in as deeply as he could, trying to calm himself down. He was actually a little bit early… he just needed to chill. The breeze picked up, sending a little chill up and down his spine, even through his jacket.

He lay down and looked up at the sky through the tree. The branch was swaying and there were leaves drifting all around him, a few of them landing on him, and he could see the sky speckled through the branches. They were moving noticeably fast.

If Johnny was here, he thought, he would find some kind of symbolism in the whole thing. He realized, however, that he hadn't really sat down to do some actual thinking in the past several days. It had been almost as if he had been in a dream… because he hadn't been doing any of his own thinking.

But it's for my own good, he thought, because otherwise I would never have realized how much I like Zoe.

I mean Cady.

I mean—

"Hey Hayden," Zoe cooed from behind him, making him jump up and ram his shoulder into the tree, ripping the sleeve of his shirt. He grumbled to himself, thinking that that was probably why he'd accidentally thought Zoe's name instead of Cady's. Because she had been right there, even if he hadn't realized it.

"Uh, hi," he mumbled, trying really not hard not to look her in the eyes. Because when he did, he couldn't look away, and he started to not hear what she was saying. In fact, he was completely tuned out until he saw her frown.

"Hayden?" she said quietly. "Look… I'm really, really sorry about what Eddie did. You didn't know we were dating. I mean, it had only been for a few days anyway…"

"Mm," Hayden nodded.

"And I broke up with him for it, you know," she said, looking determined all of a sudden. "If it had been someone else I would have understood, but you didn't deserve to get punched."

"Really?" Hayden squeaked.

"Duh," Zoe rolled her eyes. "Now don't think that means I am going to throw myself at you or whatever. Because I'm not. I—"

"Ooh, Zoe, you move fast!" someone called from a distance. She yelled something in reply and then turned back to Hayden.

"Exhibit A," she nodded. "Now, I'd like to be friends, mmkay?"

"Kay," Hayden nodded, feeling his cheeks burn. Well, it was convenient. He and Zoe could be friends, and then he and Cady could still be… well, you know.

"For now," she shrugged, trying not to smile. "See you around, okay?" she ran off then, towards the person who had yelled at her. He could hear them giggling, but he couldn't tell what they were talking about. His thoughts were too jumbled.

He sat down, preparing to think long and hard about what had just happened. However, of course Johnny picked just a few seconds later to pop up next to him.

"Sorry I'm late," he huffed and puffed. "I just woke up."

Hayden glanced at him to find that Johnny was in a much worse condition than even he was. He knew that there was a lot of sleep Johnny didn't get from all of the homework and video games and whatever the crap else he did all the time, but this was ridiculous. He literally had dark rings under his eyes, like the time Cady had tried to put makeup on and then forgot about it and wore it all night.

"Dude," Hayden blinked. "What happened?"

"W-what?" Johnny snapped to attention. "Oh. Nothing, I'm just tired. All of those college credit classes, you know? The parents had better appreciate this, ha, ha, ha…"

"Right," Hayden raised an eyebrow. "So…um. Do you have it?"

"Yeah," Johnny nodded, pulling something out of his back pocket. Hayden expected it to be crumpled up (like Johnny's homework), but instead it was neatly folded, the edges crisp. Hayden raised an eyebrow at it. There was something tugging at the back of his stomach, but he couldn't quite place it. He thought maybe it was his confrontation with Zoe… maybe he should mention it to Johnny…

"Just… just don't screw it up, okay?" Johnny laughed awkwardly. "I actually tried to make it halfway decent."

"Oh," Hayden said, unable to protest. "Right. Um… so I'll tell you how it turns out, okay?"

"And don't open it," he added. "So you won't worry about revisions or anything. Just trust me."

Johnny nodded and then said he had to get to class, speeding off. What a nerd, Hayden couldn't help but laugh, heading towards the place that he and Cady normally met before school, except for the day that things had been awkward. In the back of his mind, he really didn't expect her to be there. In fact, when he got there and she was there, he realized that he had halfway hoped that she wouldn't.

Because now he actually had to go through with it.

"Hey Hayden," Cady grinned. "Look, about that night, I think maybe we—"

"This is for you," Hayden rushed, feeling bad about interrupting her but realizing that he would be completely unable to do it if he had waited any longer.

As soon as it passed between their hands, however, he felt an instant pit in his stomach. Their fingers brushed, and he didn't get excited the way he did when he even looked at Zoe… when their fingers brushed, he just remembered them finger painting back in kindergarten when they'd met. When he looked at Cady, he felt like he was reminded of looking at his little sister. She was pretty and nice and made him feel better… but so did his dog. There was something besides that that dating required, even though he didn't know what.

For once, Johnny was wrong.

"For …oh," Cady laughed, taking it from him. Hayden had crumpled it in the process of shoving it at her. "Okay, cool."

She opened it slowly, looking like she was trying not to giggle as she read the first few lines. Then, all of a sudden, she started to frown.

Oh crap, Hayden thought. Oh crap, crap, crap. What on earth did it say? What did Johnny write? He didn't understand. Why would Johnny go through all that trouble to help him just to purposely ruin it in the end? Unless… unless it wasn't on purpose. Maybe too much of himself had gotten into the letter… maybe he had made it "ironic" and stupid and it had ended up hurting Cady's feelings.

"Hayden," she said quietly (which was weird, coming from her.) "You…"

Aw, crap. "Cady, I didn't mean—"

"Hayden, this is the most beautiful thing I've ever read," she choked. He could have sworn he saw a tiny sparkle in the corner of her eye. "How did you… why did you… oh, Hayden, I wasn't sure how I felt but… but nobody has ever done anything like this for me before. I…"

She place the tips of her fingers carefully on the edge of his sleeve, looking him straight in the eye. She was smiling despite the fact that she looked completely lost. He'd missed his chance. He couldn't say anything now. After seeing the look on her face after she'd finished that letter, he could never tell her that nobody had really meant any of it. Whether or not she really liked Hayden, it would break her heart.

She was about to say something when the warning bell rang. "Oh crap," she said, her voice cracking. "If I get another tardy I'm gonna get detention. My mom'll ground me and then we can't… I'll see you later, kay?"

She ran off, attempting to stuff the letter into her back pocket, not noticing when it fell to the ground behind her, almost being swept under the lockers. Hayden stomped his foot on it and picked it up, shaking the dirt off. He was afraid to read it. He needed to go somewhere where he could think.

That place ended up being the bathroom.

Really, it was the most peaceful place in school. No security camera, no griping assistant principals, and not much noise.

He sat for a while, thinking everything over. He realized that it was his fault that he had gotten into this whole mess… but he wasn't exactly happy with Johnny for confusing him so much. It seemed like Johnny had such strong opinions that he wasn't able to see exceptions.

Well, here goes nothing, he thought, and opened the letter and started to read.

Cady, it said.

There are a lot of things I could say but most of them you would think sounded lame. There are a lot of love poems and songs and ballads and sonnets and they all sound romantic and lyrical but most of them really don't mean anything. There are over five hundred thousand words in the dictionary but I don't think that even after all of that effort there are any of them that are big enough to say what I mean. It doesn't take much effort to say that I think it's really cute the way you only have dimples when you are trying not to laugh, or the way I still think you're funny even when I'm mad and don't want to admit it, but you seem like you've always known that things don't have to be complicated to be important.

I realize that even I never thought I was suited for cute little high school romances, but out of all of the eighty thousand girls that have had stupid, meaningless love poems written for them, there's something about you that's different. I'm sorry I didn't have the guts to say this to your face, and I'm sorry I'll never really be able to put into words how I feel, but now you know at least the tip of the iceberg. I just thought you should know.


Hayden stared at the letter for a few minutes, utterly confused. It wasn't exactly the sort of thing he'd expected from Johnny. Maybe he had tried to make it sound like Hayden, but the more times he read over it, the more he started to really understand it.

Leave it to Johnny to hide a secret message in a note that was supposed to be about simplicity. All of those double meanings and symbols and asymptotes and whatever. Any second thoughts and reservations he'd had before had completely passed. He didn't understand why he couldn't have seen it all along.

People, Hayden thought, are such idiots.

At least, however, it made it very obvious what Hayden had to do. He and Cady were going to have to have a very long talk. But this time, no writing was going to be involved. Hayden was going to communicate the best way he knew how—

Through his mouth.

Johnny was normally the first one out of the parking lot after school, but that day he was feeling too apathetic to care. Actually, he was just feeling pathetic. He had completely forgotten about a history test he'd had that day. He was sure he failed it. And for once, Cady seemed to have done well… at least, by the way she was squealing after getting it back, he had to assume so.

He couldn't even look at her. Normally she always joked about how much she was going to beat him on things… but then never did, and found a way to make fun of him anyway. It was one thing that he could always count on happening. His grades were what kept his ego inflated, so when he didn't have that… what was left?

People kept asking him what was wrong throughout the day. A couple of people from his history class had even teased him about his mood being because of Cady beating him.

You, he grumbled to himself, have no idea.

When he got to his car, he was planning on turning the music up really loud so that he could kill two birds with one stone by both clearing his head and annoying people he passed, but he found that when he jammed his key in the door, it wouldn't turn. He kicked his car as hard as he could, grabbing his foot and squishing up his face in pain afterwards, a few girls giggling as they walked by. He eventually got it open, sitting in his car and calming down for a minute or two before he left. He couldn't let people see him like that.

"Aw, come on," Cady had said in first period. "Don't be a sore loser. Just because my voluptuous Einsteinian tendencies have finally represented themselves, doesn't mean you should ignore me."

That was the closest he'd come to laughing all day. After that, he didn't look at her and she didn't say anything to him. Actually, he noticed that after third period (the next class they had together) she didn't say much to anyone at all.

Why do I even care? He seethed to himself. This is so freaking ridiculous. It's just a grade. Cady is just some random girl that I'll never see again after we don't have a class together. Why would I care about her?

I mean it. The grade. I mean—

"Hey Johnny," a voice said perkily, tapping on his window and making him bang his head on the top of the car. He was really going to have to look into a higher ceiling.

"Oh, um, er," he sputtered before he realized he was doing it as he rolled down the window. "What's up, C-Cady?"

"I think we need to talk," she informed him, still trying to look him in the eye (which he was avoiding without realizing it.)

"Whatever about?" he asked, wiggling his eyebrows. He had to stay calm. There was no way she could know that he had written the letter. Why would Hayden tell her and ruin everything they'd done?

"About…" she thought for a moment. He wished she would step back. It was very cold outside, she wasn't even wearing a jacket, and it was annoying him. "I think you know perfectly well what this is about."

Her weirdly long hair, which she normally wore up, was flipping around in the breeze. She had plain brown hair and eyes, was an average height, kind of scrawny and tomboyish. But somehow she was the prettiest girl in the whole school. (Maybe she wore a lot of makeup? Eh, he knew there was some logical reason.)

"I… uh. I don't know what you're talking about," he insisted, shrugging. He thought about saying he had to go, but then he would seem like a coward. There had to be some way he could avoid this conversation without anyone being able to tell he was actually scared out of his pants.

"Hayden gave me this letter today," she said. "He wanted me to know how he felt."

"He…he did?" Johnny blinked. So Hayden hadn't told her? Then what did she want to talk about?

"He said that you said that guys and girls couldn't around each other without ending up trying to seduce each other," she raised an eyebrow.

"Well," he shrugged. "I mean, that isn't exactly what I—"

"Well you were wrong," she informed him. "I mean, I didn't think it was possible, considering that you are, like, a walking encyclopedia of nerdism."


"It's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard, actually," she continued. "I was surprised at you. See, a little while after I got that note from Hayden, I realized there was absolutely no way I could ever go out on a date with him."

"W-what?" Johnny blinked.

"Well first of all," she explained. "He is very gross when he eats. You don't want to see it, trust me. Also, he breaks stuff a lot. I mean, you can forget having little ceramic figures from family members you never see laying around everywhere if he is in the room."

"Um," Johnny said intelligently (in order to refute what she had been saying.)

"Also because he does this really annoying ice-crunching half-eating thing when he drinks water," she added. "It kind of makes me want to punch him in the face sometimes. But mostly it's because unlike the chicken scratch writing in the letter, Hayden has very, very good penmanship."

"Wait," Johnny blinked. "Isn't it good to have good—oh."

He was about to say something else, but Cady wanted to avoid it being something she wouldn't be able to argue against, so she leaned in through the window and planted her lips on his.

His eyes widened out of surprise for a second, until he realized what was happening. Even then he didn't quite believe it. He leaned forward impulsively and Cady banged her head on the roof, and he got caught in his seatbelt and thrust back against his seat, but he couldn't take the time to undo it or open the door or anything.

He wrapped his arms around her neck and pulled her closer to him, and all he could think about was how nice she smelled. That is, until she squeaked and rammed her face into his chest, her feet flailing around. He let go reluctantly and she stood up straight, backing away a bit.

"Um," Johnny said.

"It's a good thing you don't sound like this during debate tournaments," Cady said. "Unless they're different than I thought."

"B-but," Johnny sputtered. "Hayden…"

"Ugh, will you forget about Hayden?" Cady groaned. "You are so difficult. Hayden and I don't think of each other like that. I like… you know. Y-you."

"But you two have known each other for so long," he insisted. "Why would you like me more?"

Cady was only confused because Johnny looked genuinely concerned about this. She couldn't help but giggle a little bit. "I don't like you more, you egotistical silly head. I just like Hayden differently."

"But… what's gonna happen to you guys?"

"Well," she laughed. "Why can't we be friends?"

Johnny looked like he was about to protest, but then decided against it, grinning slowly.

"So," Cady wiggled her eyebrows. "Are you gonna ask me out or am I gonna go have to go seduce Hayden?"

Well then, tonight he was going out to dinner. Homework could wait.

He unbuckled and hopped out of the car so they could really kiss this time.

A/N: Jeez, this turned out long. I actually think it might be moving a bit fast, though. I dunno.

Feedback, anyone:D

I was thinking about turning this into an entire story...

should I?

Reviews would be appreciated. I spent a long time on this one. xD