Chapter Eight

"So where were you last night?"

This was how Seth greeted me as I pulled open the front door at seven-thirty the next morning.

"There are so many things wrong with that question," I answered him, turning my back on him completely as he let himself in. I walked to the living room and threw myself down on the couch. All I really wanted was to sleep, but I could hear Seth following me.

"Care to elaborate? Unfortunately I can't read your mind," he answered, sitting heavily on top of my legs.

"You would think that that's unfortunate," I mumbled. I pretended to be irritated, but I was still on a high from last night. And I couldn't really be annoyed with Seth. "Anyway. Problem number one, do you realize how early it is? Number two, how do you know that I was gone last night? Number three, why do you need to know where I was last night? You know, if you hadn't coerced me into being your friend, I'd probably call the cops on you for stalking."

"Psssh, you like it," Seth replied, and he started to bounce on my shins. I know I said that I never got annoyed at him, but I was starting to re-evaluate that decision.

"Anyway, you didn't answer my question. Where were you last night?"

"I want to know why it matters so much to you that you came over at seven-thirty to ask," I responded, both because I was curious and because I still hadn't told Seth about my friendship with Aaron and didn't really want to. But was it still technically a friendship? Usually you don't date your friends. So what were we then? In some sort of limbo? Well, whatever we were, I didn't want to tell Seth.

"If you must know, I planned to come here at this time regardless of whether or not you were home last night. And the only reason I know that you weren't home is because I called to warn you that I would be coming over at seven-thirty this morning. See, I was only trying to do something nice and considerate for you, and you twist it to sound like I'm stalking you. I'm hurt," he said, complete with a pout that was hardly genuine.

I couldn't help but laugh, even though I could have pointed out that turning up at seven-thirty despite of the fact that he hadn't warned me wasn't exactly nice or considerate, but I had a feeling that he wouldn't agree with me.

"So the next logical question is why you decided that you had to come over at seven-thirty."

"Actually, the next logical question is the one that you haven't answered yet. Where were you last night?"

"Why is it so important to you?" I asked. I felt like we were going around in circles trying to avoid each other's question, and with my sleep deprivation I was getting a little dizzy.

"Because I'm just confused at who else you would do something with on a Friday night," Seth answered, and if he had been someone else, I would have been offended. And even though what he was saying was technically what he truly thought, he said it like it was a joke, and it was hard to be angry with him.

"This might be difficult for you to believe, but I have met other people at school." I was quite pleased with my answer. I technically answered his question, and still avoided mentioning Aaron, all while making it sound like I was teasing him as per our usual means of communication. It probably would have worked too, if this wasn't Seth that I was dealing with.

"Who did you go out with? You are new here, and there are a lot of bad people at our school. I'd hate for you to fall in with a bad group of friends. I'd feel morally reprehensible."

"Bad people? As opposed to you, the stalker? And since when are you morally responsible for me?"

"I thought we cleared up this whole 'stalker' accusation. You obviously enjoy my company, thus I can't be a stalker."

"I don't think the police would agree with that definition."

"Yeah, but legally, you did open the door to let me in to your house."

"Yeah, but legally, there were no witnesses."

"Yeah, but legally, you would be committing perjury if you denied it."

"Yeah, but legally, you are not a lawyer."

"Yeah, but legally, you aren't either."

"Yeah, but legally... I'm tired of this debate."

"Yeah, but legally, that's not an argument."

"Shut up."

"Does that mean I win?"

"Yeah, but legally, not really."

"Still means I won!" Seth said, sticking his tongue out at me. I decided to be more mature than him and took the high road by hitting him with a pillow in retaliation. And the pillow that was thrown at me in return was still worth the look of shock when the pillow wiped his gloating smile off his face.

As soon as we had settled down and remembered that we were technically adults, I returned to more serious subjects.

"So why are you here again? Besides to keep tabs on me at all times?"

"I was under the distinct impression that you wanted to explore my little safe haven."

"Yeah, but I didn't mean that I wanted to explore it at seven-thirty in the morning," I answered, pretending to be disgruntled. I wasn't even really tired anymore. Getting hit in the face with a pillow tends to have that effect.

"Well, unfortunately for you, that is the best time of the day to go exploring."

"As declared by you?"

"Yep. But as you know, I am the expert on that particular little part of New Jersey, so what I say means a lot." I couldn't help but laugh at him, and I received a completely non-threatening glare in return. "Besides, the morning is the best part of the day regardless if you are going exploring or not."

"I believe that qualifies as an opinion, and it's one that I would share under any normal circumstance, but as it is, I'm really tired."

"Why? Did you stay out really late with these friends that you pretend to have?" Seth teased, and this time I was the one who stuck out my tongue. It probably wasn't the most mature response, but immaturity was practically a prerequisite to be friends with Seth. Besides, it was better if he thought that I was covering up for something else, rather than know I went out with Aaron.

"Anyway, we are wasting valuable exploration time! Hurry up and get dressed, we have some tracks to cover!" Seth proclaimed, releasing me from beneath his weight and pulling me up and, presumably, to action. It sort of worked, but I still dragged my feet up to my room to get changed.

"Oh, and wear some boots, if you have them!" Seth called up the stairs. I groaned, even though he wouldn't be able to hear me. What did this kid have planned for me today?

We were currently wading in a fairly shallow stream in the middle of Seth's little woods. If my boots had been more functional, and my feet a bit more dry, I probably would have legitimately enjoyed myself. Seth was crouched down low to the water, and he was unusually still. Indeed, he had been sitting like that for the past ten minutes. I had initially been down there with him, but after three minutes, my legs started to ache, and I wasn't entirely sure what he was watching, so I gave up pretending.

"Do you do this often? I'm not sure if you are aware of this, but if you stare at your reflection to much, you might get so mesmerized that you eventually fall in and drown."

Seth laughed and surprised me by answering, "Does that make you Echo then? Seeing as you also find me to be mesmerizing."

"Hey, I never said I think that you are mesmerizing. Stalkerish and crazy, maybe."

"Um, I believe you just said I was mesmerizing," he answered, not looking up from the water.

"No, I didn't mean that I think that. I think that you think that you are mesmerizing."

"That's not what you saaaaaaaid," Seth said, in an annoying sing-song voice. But I still wasn't annoyed for some reason.

"I'm surprised you even knew what I was talking about, though. I thought you hated history," I deflected.

"Hey, you know that's not true! The first thing I told you was that I like history."

"Yeah, and I've also sat through a week of history class with you, and thus I also know that you are liar."

"I said I like history. I never said that I like school," Seth answered simply, still not looking up at me. "Anyway, I'm touched that you care about my well-being enough to be concerned that I might inadvertently kill myself. Further proof that you would be Echo. But don't fear, my admirer, I'm not staring at myself, although it is difficult not to, as you well know," I tried to protest this, but he cut across me in his low voice that signified that he was being serious, "but I am currently observing nature at work."

Even though I still wanted to protest his claim that I would be Echo, I was more intrigued by his sudden interest in nature. Obviously I was used to this from him, the sudden switches from playfulness to seriousness, but he had never struck me as an outdoorsy type before, and I was surprised that he actually cared about the flora and fauna of the stream.

I crouched down beside him again, and looked down into the world that existed beneath the reflection of our heads huddled close together.

"You know for someone who doesn't like school, you like an awful lot of things that are related to it," I said as I looked up at him and whispered, but I'm not entirely sure why I lowered my voice. Maybe I was being reverential to the world I felt like I was invading, or maybe because my face was about two feet from Seth's, but whispering just felt appropriate.

"What do you mean?" Seth whispered back, still staring down into the depths of the river. "There's nothing at all related to school in nature. There are things related to nature in school, but not the other way around. And therein lies why I hate school so much."

"Because it attempts to study nature?" I asked, genuinely confused. I knew that Seth could be serious, but he was never serious for such a prolonged period, and I didn't understand why the topic of school had this effect on him.

"No, it doesn't study nature. Not really. The teachers stand in front of the class and tell you what they think you need to know about nature, and the brainless students lap it all up and memorize the kingdoms and the families and the genuses, but they don't actually understand nature. This, right here, watching and observing nature is true understanding," Seth said, never once breaking his gaze from the stream. It was a good thing too, because I was staring at him with my mouth gaping open. I had never seen Seth like this. I had seen his goofy side, I had seen his serious side, but this... this was a deep, contempletive, caring side of him that was completely unfamiliar to me. And I don't know why, but I had a feeling that it would be completely unfamiliar to everyone else who knew Seth too.

"I know you don't agree with me," he continued on, snapping me back to reality, and good thing too, because he probably would have looked at me if I hadn't stopped staring at him so blatantly. "I know you think that school is necessary and that getting good grades is the most important thing in the world, but someday I'll make you see," he finished, finally looking away from the water in order to give me a smirk. And even though this sounded like one of his typical, teasing comments, I knew that he actually meant it.

"Oh really? And how do you plan on doing that?" I returned with a challenging smile. Although I was a little bit serious, I was also trying to diffuse the moment. The significance of what he had told me and, even more, the fact that he had let his guard down in front of me, created a heaviness between us that I was beginning to associate with Seth's little safe haven.

He gave me a sneaky smile, and the shine of his eyes should have warned me, but I still didn't expect the splash of water that realized all of the pressure between the two of us. I was so surprised that I lost my balance and fell back hard on my butt. I should have been more angry, because I now had a wet butt to match my wet feet, but I couldn't help but laugh, especially when I saw Seth's expression, which was appropriately penitent, yet unabashedly amused.

"How exactly was that supposed to show me how school is the devil?" I asked between the laughs that were making my ribs hurt.

"By showing you how much more fun real life is," Seth answered. "And aren't I right? Isn't real life more fun than the fictional world they push on you at school?"

"Hmm..." I pretended to consider it, while secretly planning my attack. As he looked at me expectantly, I suddenly splashed him right across the face. If I thought it had been funny when I fell, it was nothing compared to how funny it was to watch Seth fall. "Okay, now it's more fun," I said between my laughs.

And for a minute, I actually believed it.

A/N- I think this is a record for me. An update in less than 48 hours, go me! Maybe this story actually can make it? (But I make no guarantees.) Anyway, I was just so excited to write Seth again, so that's probably why I was so inspired. Some of this chapter is a little silly, but that's exactly why I love Seth so much!