Before anything else, I want to thank murderprotocol, nagekinoki and adora_avis for the wonderful help beta help they've given me. I really needed it and I have taken all your points to heart. So again thank you and I hope you've enjoyed this story.


Simple & Clean

Part Three – Wish


The hours ticked by slowly. Hell, even the minutes were slow. I paused with my cup midway to my lips to glance at the clock. It was the same hour, only two minutes had passed since I last checked. Then I looked down and took a sip of my coffee.

Kelly sat across me and I saw her give me a look, but she didn't say anything.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" I asked, spooning a sunny side egg on my plate.

"What do you want me to say?"

"Anything."

She scoffed. "If I say anything Stassi, I doubt you'll even listen to me. But if you really want to comfort yourself then here: Your father hasn't spoken to you in weeks. You constantly avoid his phone calls. Kylie and Sara have also been trying to get a hold of you. And you've shut them out. After your date with Carter, you've completely shut everyone out," she paused. Then clicking her tongue, she slowly said, "It's a lot worse than when he left you."

As if. Stealing another look at the clock, I placed my mug down and sighed deeply. "That…is not possible."

"Oh really?" Her voice was filled with doubt. "Stassi, you've shut down after one date. One date. And you've never done that. Heck, you've never dated the same guy twice. Except…well you know."

When did his name become taboo? Was I really too hurt that I couldn't even handle hearing his name? A lot has happened since then. But I don't even know when it had happened? When exactly did we break up?

I chuckled. No. When exactly did he dump me is the right question.

I heard Kelly push away her chair and get up, leaving me alone in the kitchen. That's the third time someone's walked away from me. Carter was the second.

It's been days – I didn't really want to count – since Carter walked away from me at Blush. It's been days since he told me he knew I was about to use him. And it's been days since I've had fun.

Since that night, I've felt a little lonelier. Even more so that before. There was something seriously wrong with me if I couldn't even manage my life well. I sighed, thinking back to how I was before I was in my last relationship. Easy-going Stassi. Motivated and stubborn Stassi. No-need for supervision Stassi. I have completely devolved into a child over one break-up. "I'm so lame…now I'm talking to myself."

I was. I really was.

"Fuck!"

"Language!" Kelly yelled out.

"Sorry." Pushing my plate away, I slipped off the chair and padded out of the kitchen. I was aiming for the stairs when I heard a car pull up. A door slammed shut and footsteps began coming closer.

Instead of heading upstairs, like I had aimed, I ran to the door and pulled it open. "Carter?"

"Who's Carter?" My dad paused on the second step, confusion on his face.

"Dad?"

He smiled weakly. "Surprise?"

I ran out and hugged him. "Yes, yes it's a surprise."

Laughing, he dropped his suitcase and gave me a full hug. I had missed my dad. Five months is too long for him to be gone. And I knew it was for his job, but it wasn't going to make me miss him any less. Especially since I hadn't spoken to him, since I left. And this was a time I needed his comfort.

"How are you?" We pulled apart and he kissed my forehead. "How's my favorite and only daughter?"

I shrugged. Taking his hand, I led him in the house. "Really tired. Still."

He eyed me oddly but it was replaced with a sweet smile. "It's the desert my dear. I hope you drank enough water."

I nodded. Kelly came bursting from the kitchen.

"Richard! What a surprise!" She gave him a hug and behind her George had a wide smile on his face.

"Welcome back Richard."

My dad laughed as he hugged Kelly back. "Thank you, thank you. Now, why does my daughter seem so much more withdrawn than usual?" He looked at me.

I couldn't tell him, but I couldn't lie either. Because I needed him to help me.

"He's gone dad. He left me."


After recapping the events of the past month and some over some freshly baked bread and green tea – my favorite, and to my dad's dislike– we were joined by Sara and Kylie whom he insisted on calling over. "They can give you better advice than I can sweetie," he had said.

When they arrived, he didn't shy away from the discussion over my love life either, as we all gathered in the den. And so I retold, and everyone listened. When I finished, I looked at all of them expectantly, waiting for an answer or piece of advice about everything. "So? Where's the advice?" I asked, lifting my mug to my lips and drinking the hot tea.

Kelly laughed. "We can't tell you what to do Stassi. Sara tried telling you not to use Carter, but you did. We can only give you advice, not orders."

"Yeah," Kylie added, "Let me sound like my sister's self-help books, 'you've got to figure things out on your own. You'll probably be confused your whole life as to the why, but that's okay. Not every guy will be like him.' That's it." She reached for the bread, tore a piece off and chewed. Smiling warmly, her eyes slightly averted to her left where Sara was sitting, as if she was giving me a signal.

Sara had been silently sitting beside her, ever since they arrived and right now she was eating. Silently. Inwardly I sighed and mustered up the courage to confront her. Well no, I was in no position to do any confronting, because I hadn't listened to my best friend and my own selfish actions led me to a ditch.

"I'm sorry Sara," it burst out before I could think of the follow up.

Her eyes snapped up and they were wide with surprise. Before she could say anything, I continued, "It's my fault this all happened and I do really need your help. And I promise I will listen to your advice, I promise."

To my surprise, she started laughing. I don't get what so funny. She must have noticed my confusion because she waved me down, and then explained, "It wasn't as if I was angry that you didn't take my advice. I was disappointed that you acted a little out of character. I know you're not the type to use people so yeah, that was it. I'm not angry or anything. Relieved actually, that you owned up to it."

"I had to." Then everyone looked at me. And I mean essentially stare at me, as if they all knew something I wasn't aware of. "…what?"

Kylie smiled sweetly, "You just said it. You had to." Realizing that I still did not get her drift, she continued, "Own up to it Stassi."

Wow, that was mind-numbing advice. One I wasn't too keen on. But everyone was in consensus and agreed with her. And I needed to get some air.

I stood, placed my cup down and scanned everyone. "Excuse me, I need to breathe." Then I walked out of the den into the garage and hopped into my Jetta. Ah yes, upholstery and leather never smelled so good.


I didn't know where I was driving. But I wasn't in a hurry to get there, so I pulled over, killed the engine and slumped in my seat.

I really had no idea what I was doing. Where did I get the idea to find Carter and explain – I didn't even have a number, address, much less his last name.

My Starbucks was a few meters away so I got out and headed that way to get a frap. It was almost seven so the streets had died down from the crowds rushing home. The line at Starbucks was short and when I reached to open the door, something caught my eye.

Rather, someone's reflection caught my eye. Looking behind me across the street, two men were heading to the street parking in front of their building. One was still dressed in a light brown suit, the other had removed his coat and carrying a drawing case with one hand, he began to loosen his tie with the other. He had faced my direction to open the car they were standing in front of and that's when I knew it was him.

I dashed to the other side, catching a lucky break that no cars passed by. The whole time, I had my eyes trained on him. I saw surprise as I safely made it on the other side.

"Stassi?"

"Hey," I grinned ungracefully but I didn't care. I nodded at his companion who laughed.

"All right. We'll fix it tomorrow. See ya Carter." He walked to the adjacent parking lot.

"Later," Carter called out then turned to me. "Hey, what are you doing?"

Shrugging, I sighed deeply to regain my composure. "I'm sorry."

He raised a brow. No smile, but I'd get it out of him.

"I'm sorry I used you. I don't know what to do with what I'm going through." And since I was one to avoid confrontations, I changed the subject, pointing to the building he came out of. "Do you work here?"

"Yes. So Stassi, back to what we were just talking about."

Well, he certainly wasn't wasting time. "I never planned to use you as rebound. It just became so simple; I thought I could do it. And I got caught up, in the moment and what a big mess I'm in…" My voice dropped, as I shoved my hands into my pockets. This explanation wasn't going the way I planned. Hell, it didn't even sound like an explanation, more like a—

"An excuse?"

"It isn't. And so I did it. But you obviously knew and turned the tables on me. And I feel worse than before. I'm not asking for forgiveness or you to understand what I'm going through. Just please listen to me."

"I'm listening," he said running a hand through his hair. His facial expression betrayed no emotion and I felt unnerved as he stared at me blankly. I was going to lose my courage.

"Really?"

A flicker of annoyance passed over his eyes. In my position, I shouldn't be annoying the person I'm apologizing to. Holding my palms up towards his direction, my voice turned out higher than normal, "I'm sorry. I really am. When we were at Blush, all the memories both the great and painful ones came flooding back. I felt overwhelmed and I guess I went back to my pitiful state of denial and everything. This was the first time…"

Funny how I haven't cried yet. I had started out strongly with a firm resolve to explain everything to him. But I've slowly degenerated, and even if it wasn't as painful as I imagined, I was surprised I hadn't shed a tear.

"So it was your first serious relationship?"

I nodded. He was going to think I was sad. I thought I was sad too. "I didn't know how to deal with it from the very beginning. I thought I could wing it, turns out that I really can't. You know I don't have a mother and I guess this is one of those mother-daughter things that I've missed out on. Kelly tried her hardest to help, but I couldn't give her more of a burden on top of managing the house. She and George have taken care of me my whole life; I wanted to free them from a little responsibility. So I didn't know what I was doing."

To my surprise and a little relief, he started laughing.

"Why are you laughing?"

Shaking his head, he placed the drawing case on the roof of his car and leaned back against the passenger doors. "At you. I'm laughing at you."

Wow, thanks. I think.

"Nobody really knows what to do in relationships. Sure we can read self-help books or take advice from other couples, but it all comes down to the individual. We can't act the same way in a current relationship as we did the previous one. You don't want to end up like Elizabeth Taylor." Carter folded his arms across his chest and looked down, fumbling with his feet. "I've never been good at relationships. They tend to be short-lived, hollow or superficial."

I could believe that. He did offer to "take me home" the first time we met. However, I didn't say or do anything as to let him continue. Carter was showing a different side to himself, and I was interested, just as he was interested in my life.

He shrugged to himself, "I guess I never really grew up, emotionally. I was idealistic and naïve back in high school. It starts out all romantic and the bar is set up so high, it can only regress into appearances. You are the first girl I've taken out in which the first date wasn't 'romantic'. I mean, you laughed at me!"

Smiling, I nodded. I understood now why we had fed ducks instead. That day set no standards and it was just for fun. Which I needed and apparently he did as well.

"And after at Blush when you kissed me, I shouldn't have been so disappointed you tried to use me as rebound. I did offer, but it wasn't what I really wanted." He laughed coarsely and ruffed his hair before he continued, "We're both messed up, aren't we?"

I nodded. But, "I am more so than you are. You did offer, but you ended up paying for the cab, saving my cell and taking me out even if I was horrible." A couple passersby looked inquiringly at us. When they had walked past us, I saw them turn their heads back to sneak a glance then whisper amongst themselves.

"They think we're weird," Carter cut into my silent observation. "So, what now? I didn't really need an apology; it was partially my fault but thank you. And…" He had trailed off and I was going to take that as a cue to continue but he started again. "Look, I like you and you're probably very different under normal circumstances. And I really want us to feed the ducks again." He stomped his foot. "Fuck, I can't…I don't know Stassi. You drive me insane; I have to bite my tongue not to respond to your snarky attitude before – which hopefully you won't be using on me anymore. But you keep me interested." And then he smiled that charming, infectious smile of his.

And I inwardly rejoiced. But even if I was interested to spend another day with Carter, there was still the matter of unresolved feelings over my ex.

"I can't. Well, I'm not ready. What happened, well if you found out the way I did that it was over, is admittedly painful. I can make all the excuses in the world about how pathetic and shallow and meaningless the relationship was, but fact is I was hurt. I still am hurt." I sighed and walked over to the front steps and sat. When Carter joined me, I smiled weakly at him and continued.

"I can't tell you that I'm ready for another relationship and that I'm over him, because I'd just be lying to myself. When I really get over him, I can try. But for now…" I trailed off as he placed an arm over my shoulders and gave me a side hug.

We sat there for a bit in silence, watching the streets empty as people had all gone home.

He pulled me closer and rested his head against mine. "Friends. We can still be friends."

I didn't question him on when we began this friendship, but only that I was grateful for the company he was giving me. There was no need for rebound. I had lost a small part of my life, but what I had gained over the past couple weeks had more potential to become more important than the lost pieces.

"So, make sure to drop your cell this time. And when I find it, I'll return it when I'm ready."

Carter laughed. I really missed hearing it.


"Hey dad, pass the soy milk please."

"Stassi, that's gross."

"No it's not. Please pass it."

"No. Drink some real milk."

"Dad."

"Stassi."

"Drink some Coke!" Kelly burst in slamming two cans of Coke on the table. Dad and I stared at her in surprise and frankly I was a bit afraid. "Let's have some Coke for dinner." Without saying another word, she slid back into her seat and threw a glare at George who was desperately trying to keep a straight face.

Leaning over, I grabbed a can and snapped it open. "Hey dad, when are you heading out next?"

He shook his head as he cut up his vegetables. "Not for a while sweetie. I'm going to stick around and just relax. I haven't stayed in any city for a while and it's nice to be around people, skyscrapers and traffic. Beats the polar bears most days."

I smiled. It would be a great change for dad to be around. I had honestly missed him and we hadn't spent much time together this year. "Hey, we can finally clean your storage room."

Kelly and George laughed. They knew it was going to be a chore seeing as dad liked his sentimental stuff everyone else calls junk. "Hopefully this time around, we get to clean it. Instead of just rearranging it," George patted Dad on back and continued to chuckle.

"One man's junk is another man's treasure. That room is my treasure," Dad turned to look at me as he took a Coke. "Work's all right sweetie?"

I nodded. "Perfect. Matt and I got the go ahead for the red-light documentary. We already started filming a couple days back so at least we're ahead of the production schedule. Expect it on prime time in seven, eight months!" I winked at everyone at the table, giving them a little hint to watch it.

Things had progressively improved after my dad returned and my admission of guilt to Carter. The family dinners we started to have again, lifted my spirits and things slowly returned to normal. I began to think less and less of my previous relationship and focused on work, family and friends. With my dad's return and the red-light documentary, I was provided with enough distractions that eventually I could let my cell go without checking it. I could finally stop waiting. Because my life continued even if that one path stopped.

"What time's the movie at?" Kelly asked, placing her fork and knife down as she leaned back.

"I'm not sure but I think Kylie said 9:15." I started to go out again, although not to Blush, with Sara and Kylie. We spent more time heading for the movie theatre and other non-bar type places to hangout. The other week, we went go-karting, which we hadn't done in four years. And I was only 23.

"Are the guys going?" Kelly asked.

Nodding, I tried to hide a smile. But they caught on and all chuckled. "They'll be there. I'm grabbing a ride with Carter."

"Oh thank God, you're friends with boys again. I was starting to worry," Kelly joked and I gave her a small pout.

I sipped from my coke and replied, "We converged, which was a little weird." As promised, Carter and I kept as friends and soon our groups of friends converged into a sizable bunch. Sara and Kylie were ecstatic, as some of Carter's friends they found quite attractive – which lead to outings such as the one occurring tonight. It was a nice change of pace and the new friends were refreshing.

"Anyway, I'm going to get ready." I got up and after placing my dishes in the dishwasher, walked upstairs to change. My simple plan albeit stupid plan for rebound had opened the door for a much better situation than I was in before. Although Carter had said he wanted to be more than friends, I was glad he was giving me time but also being a friend at the same time.

I brush my teeth, grabbed a sweater and my purse then ran down the stairs. Peeking through the windows, my dad turned back at me and smiled. "Are you being creepy dad?"

He laughed. "I thought I heard a car pull up," he said and came closer. "You look better Stassi. You look a lot better." Smiling, he pulled me into a hug. Although I was used to his absence, everything seemed much better when he was around. He was my only parent and I couldn't take that for granted. I had grown up comfortably with Kelly and George acting as my guardians, but my dad's presence meant so much more.

"It's because I'm your daughter. It's because Kelly and George take care of me when you're gone. It's because Kylie and Sara are the best friends in the world," I winked and kissed him on the cheek. Way to be cheesy, Stassi.

"That was really cheesy."

"I know." And I really did, but that was how I really felt. All the people around me, all the people who have stayed with me, they were the ones that mattered. The ones that mattered stayed. "I love you."

He kissed my forehead and patted my head. "I love you too sweetie."

The doorbell rang and he laughed as he let go. "That's probably Carter."

I opened it and he greeted with me with a smile.

"Hey."

"Hi." Opening the door a little wider, I stepped aside to let him in as he greeted my dad. "The movie starts at 9:15, but it is the second day so we should get going." From the closet, I grabbed a pair of black flats and placed them beside the front door. "Do you want a drink before we go though?"

Carter shook his head, "That's all right. I just grabbed a bite with Terry. Shall we get going?" When I nodded, he waved bye to my dad and opened the door for me.

Giving my dad a quick kiss on the cheek, I slipped into my shoes and followed after Carter. He was a couple steps ahead of me and opened the door for me. I think I was getting used to his being a gentleman. It always brought a smile to my face. Even little things like opening the door.

"Are you that excited about Christian Bale and his faux creepy bat voice?"

"Come again?"

He was already in the driver's seat looking at me in amusement. "You're giggling."

I began to laugh. The car began to move and we were heading to the direction of Rainbow Place. It brought back a familiar feeling, back when he first asked me out. The sun was still out but kids had began to head home with their families. Driving by brought back the memories of our little escapade of feeding the ducks and although we haven't done it again, hanging out with Carter was just as fun.

He kept his word on being friends and he made no inclination moving on as something more. And I couldn't get him out of my head.

"Really Stass, you keep giggling."

"No I'm not." I think.

The corner of his lips turned up in a suppressed grin and he replied, "Since we walked out of your place, you've had this look on your face. Like you're thinking of a private joke."

Quite right, my private joke was Carter. But I wasn't about to tell him that. "It is; but like you said, it's a private joke. So I can't really say." It's you Carter. This joke is about you. It's about how you've managed to fast-track the healing process of my broken heart. How you've managed to ease your presence into my life so simply, so smoothly, so cleanly. And all it took was a lost cell phone and various acts of chivalry.

He didn't say anything but laughed instead. Then a few minutes later he asked, "So what's this joke about?"

I couldn't help by smile. He was persistent. Facing him, I watched his profile in utmost concentration, with a hint of a smile as he looked forward. "If you drop this joke, I'll tell you something you'll love to hear when we get there."

"An interesting proposition there Miss. Is it really that good?"

Even though I knew he wouldn't see it, I smirked and winked. "Oh, you'll love it." Because I know I love it.

And because I know I've reached the point past denial. This progress, even my little private Carter "joke" was a sign that was over it. Life goes on.

I knew what I was going to tell him and it was exciting, but as we pulled into the parking lot of the theatre the excitement began to fade. No, I wasn't going to back out of our deal. After all, I save myself a little embarrassment if he found out that he was the butt of my little jokes. Of course, they weren't really jokes. More like little things I had found quite endearing which heightened my attraction to him.

Not that I wasn't from the very beginning. Oh I really was.

My door suddenly opened and Carter had trapped me in the seat as he made a small barricade with his arms on each side of the door. Smiling slyly he leaned in and asked, "So what's my prize for dropping the joke?"

Grinning, I leaned in and whispered.

When I finished, he pulled back slightly then brought his face closer to mine. Our foreheads touched and with his lips just a little right of my own responded, "I told you it was that simple."

My grin grew into a smile, "It really is."


Fin.


Author's Notes: Well there it is. Finished. It was supposed to be a one-shot but I really love Stassi and Carter that I couldn't fit them in just one chapter.

Thank you for all the reviews, they really made my day. And I really hope you've enjoyed reading, as much as I've enjoyed writing Simple & Clean.