A/N: I know, I know—I have other unfinished stories, and I should be finishing those up instead of posting a new one. I had even told myself I wouldn't post any new stories until I at least finished one of the three that I started, but this chapter was technically already written, I just had to edit it a little bit, so really I'm not taking my attention away from the stories that need it. I only ever write what I'm inspired to write, so if I'm inspired to write this one, I will whether I publish it or not—reviews just help a lot, so I figured posting it would be a win-win.

This is an older story of mine that I recently discovered sitting dormant somewhere in chapter three. I rediscovered that I liked the idea, so I decided to revamp it and publish it on fictionpress, so…hope you guys like it. Let me know what you think!

If you can bear with me through the first paragraph-ish or so –lame beginning, don't know what I was thinking—we might have some potential. If it flops after a few chapters, I'll just pull it—no big deal.

Rita Baron sat at the kitchen table sipping a cup of coffee and reading the paper. She sat the paper down and looked at the clock, sighing in irritation that her daughter was still not downstairs when she should already be leaving for school.

"Melissa," she called toward the stairs. "You're going to be late."

"I can't find my stupid chemistry book," Melissa called down.

"The blue thing that sort of looks like an ocean only… thicker?" Rita asked, her gaze flicking to the big book right in front of her.

"That's the one. Have you seen it?" her daughter called back.

"It's on the table," Rita said.

A brown haired teenage girl came running gracelessly down the stairs, donned in a red school uniform. "Okay, I'm here," she said, her eyes landing on the table and locating the misplaced chemistry book.

"After school we're having dinner and inviting over the Harrisons and their new foster child. I know sometimes they can be…a little annoying, but be nice. And don't forget to be here, because I am not doing this with just your brother," Rita stated, rolling her eyes.

"Noted," Melissa said, cramming the book into her backpack. "What time?"

"At five."

"Right. Okay. Well, I guess I'll see you later."

"Five o' clock," Rita said again.

"I'll be here."

"Well, you know how airheaded you can be."

"Goodbye," Melissa said, shutting the door behind her.

As soon as she got the door shut a girl with auburn hair and the same red and black school uniform threw her hands in the air. "It's about time. I thought you were playing hooky or something. I was about to notify the police."

"Sorry, April darling," Melissa said, checking her bag one last time to make sure everything was inside.

"What took so long?"

"I lost my chem book."

"What a tragedy," April said dryly.

Melissa shot her look. "It is. The teacher would kill me."

"Hey, when school's over what do you say we ride up by Harvard and try to get picked up by cute college guys again? I want to beat you this time. I do not appreciate you being ahead, even if it is only by one guy." She flashed a little pout and smiled.

"I can't. Our neighbors got a new little boy and we're having dinner to kind of welcome him to the neighborhood."

April scoffed. "Another one? Don't they have, like, a million already?"

"No, the last boy got adopted, so he'll only be their third."

"Still," April said dismissively. "Why do you have to be there?"

"Because I'm part hostess and it would be rude not to be present."

April rolled her eyes and said mockingly, "Sorry, Miss Manners."

Melissa nodded. "I'll forgive you this time, but don't let me hear such rude suggestions again."

"It is scary how much you sound like my mother."

Melissa shot her best friend a dirty look. "Mean much?"

After school Melissa went to the library to do her homework in the peace and quiet. She figured as long as she kept track of time, she should be able to at least knock out the first half of the chapter she had to study in chemistry. As she was copying some information from her chemistry book to her notebook, she glanced down at her watch again, checking the time because she was suspicious as to how she was getting so much accomplished and it seemed like it was taking her virtually no time at all. Seeing that she still had plenty of time, she turned back to her notes, but then she hesitated, wondering how it could possibly only be 3:18. Then, looking at the face of her watch again, she realized something: the time wasn't changing.

Her eyes widened and she tapped on the watch, whipping her head around to see the clock on the wall that read 4:50.

"Crap," she said, jumping out of her chair and shoving her things in her bag, cursing her watch for making her late twice in one day.

Thirteen minutes later she literally went running into her house, shutting the door behind her.

She glanced up and realized everyone was sitting at the table, looking at her.

"I am so, so sorry. I was at the library and my—" she took a breath "—my watch quit working. I'll be right back. I'm so sorry I feel so incredibly rude right now. I promise I'll just be minute," she said, running toward the stairs, then she stopped and turned around, realizing she should probably say hi to the new kid.

"Hello, by the way. I'll just be-" Quickly searching the table for an unfamiliar face, she stopped mid-sentence when she saw a guy about her age at the table—certainly not the little foster child she was expecting to see, and yet… there was no one else at the table that could possibly be him. He looked dark—he had dark hair, dark brooding eyes, tanned skin, and a decidedly amused look on his face.

Damn, he was attractive.

"Um, yeah, I'll be back," she managed.

When she got upstairs she allowed her jaw to drop open. "That is so not a little boy," she whispered to herself.

She threw her backpack on the floor and grabbed a pair of dark blue jeans and a black velvet off-the-shoulder top. Then she quickly fixed her long brown hair and dabbed on some lip liner and lip gloss, then she ran back downstairs, hoping her mother didn't kill her for being late.

"I'm so sorry," she said again. "I was trying to do my homework and my watch stopped. I already said that, though... I'm sorry." She looked over at the dark haired guy. "Hi, I'm Melissa," she said, offering her hand. "I'm not normally this airheaded," she added with a friendly smile.

He glanced at her hand before sitting up and taking it, shaking it with a sort of amused half smile on his face. Then when she went to draw back he squeezed and held it a couple seconds longer than he needed to before smirking and letting go on his own terms. "Seth," he said simply.

Melissa's cheeks were pink and her hand just stayed paralyzed for a moment in mid-air. Finally she realized her hand wasn't moving and she pulled her hand back, looking away. "Nice to meet you."

Melissa's dad, Martin, shot Rita a look.

Rita tried to ignore the look and smile politely. "So, Seth, how do you like it here so far?"

"In Boston?"

She nodded pleasantly.

He shrugged indolently. "I haven't been here very long, but it's better than where I've been. 'Specially the last place."

"Where was that?" Melissa asked curiously.

He looked at her and said very levelly, "Juvie."

It took a lot of effort from Melissa to keep her mouth from falling open, but she managed it. "Oh. Well, that's... nice."

He smirked at her and gave a dry chuckle. "Oh yeah, I highly recommend it."

She searched her brain for something to say but she found it was extremely empty. She glanced at her parents but they had nothing to say either. An awkward silence fell over the table, and Melissa waited for somebody to say something. Once she had looked around the whole table, she finally looked down at her plate and saw garlic bread.

"Garlic is really very good for you," she blurted.

Melissa's 13-year-old brother Jason merely shook his head and said, "You are so weird."

Melissa shrugged and took a drink of her water, glancing over the rim of her glass at Seth, who was looking at her, so she quickly looked away.

"So, what's juvie like?" her brother asked Seth with a smile.

When dinner was finally over everyone went to the back porch to visit for awhile.

Seth sat down on the deck next to Melissa. "So, what's your startling revelation about garlic?"

"Garlic? Oh," she said, blushing as she remembered her lame attempt to break the silence. "It's actually pretty good for you," she defended. "It has lots of disease fighting compounds and it reduces the risk of having a heart attack."

"Maybe so, but it gives really unpleasant breath."

She shrugged. "Chew gum after dinner."

"Probably a good idea," he said.

"So, how old are you?" she asked after a moment of silence.

"Seventeen," he responded, looking at his shoes.

She smiled. "So am I. Which school are you going to?"

"No clue," he stated, not sounding like he really cared one way or the other.

"Maybe you'll go to my school," she suggested. "It's called Harlan Academy, and it's a really good school."

He scoffed. "Yeah, I'm sure they're going to send the foster kid to your little private 'academy,'" he said, his voice lightly mocking as he leaned back carelessly on his elbows.

"You don't like the word academy?"

"It sounds snooty, selective, stuck up. I hate snooty people."

"Well, I attend Harlan Academy and as far as I know I'm not snooty."

"I'm sure," was his less than enthusiastic response.

Choosing to ignore his tone, she offered a neighborly smile and said, "Well, I hope you're going to the same school I go to. At least you'll know someone there. Let me warn you though, the first week or two you won't need to know anyone because you won't have time. You will be extremely overloaded with homework. Are you in AP English?"

"I have no idea what I'm in; I don't even know if that's the school I'm going to. I highly doubt it. I'm sure there's a ridiculous tuition that the government sure as shit isn't going to pay, and since I'm just a foster kid, I don't see the Harrisons fronting the money, either."

"They are really wonderful people," she said. "And they value education. They wouldn't exclude you and deprive you of any benefit they could give you. All their other kids are in private schools."

Seth merely shrugged. "Doesn't really matter to me."

Melissa offered a friendly smile. "It's a little intimidating at first, but if you go to Harlan, you'll get a really good education."

"Yeah, for however long I'm here," he said.

"They must be planning to keep you at least for the school year. You have to pay tuition and buy uniforms to go to Harlan."

"Whoa, back up. Uniforms?"

She nodded. "Didn't you see mine?"

"It really doesn't sound appealing. I don't do… uniforms."

"Well, they're kind of mandatory. One Friday a month we get a casual dress day though."

He just shook his head. "No thank you."

"You'll get used to it," she told him.

He merely nodded, but he didn't look like he even believed her.

"The Harrisons are really nice people, I really hope you'll like living with them."

"Well," he said, giving her a lazy half smile, "if not, maybe I'll like the neighbors."

"I'm one of the neighbors," she offered pointlessly.

He nodded and leaned in as if telling a secret. "I know."

There was something in the sideways smile he gave her then, and the thought crossed her mind that he might possibly be flirting with her.

She smiled, trying to hold her composure and keep from blushing. Before she could respond, however, her father came over to the deck, interrupting what might have been a nice moment.

"The Harrisons have to be going," he said.

Melissa glanced up. "Oh." She looked at Seth. "Well, I'll probably see you this weekend. Come over if you get bored, I can introduce you to friends or just show you around. We could even just walk around the neighborhood."

He nodded. "I might take you up on that."

She smiled. "You should."

"We can't keep our guests," Martin reminded Melissa, offering a fake smile.

Seth stood up and smirked at Martin before walking away, leaving Melissa to gaze curiously after him.

"I don't like him," Martin told Rita as she took her earrings out. "I don't like him one bit."

"Oh, Martin," she said dismissively, putting the earring away.

"Did you see the way he shook her hand? He didn't shake my hand. He certainly wouldn't have groped it that way if he would have."

"It was just a handshake."

"He's a juvenile delinquent, for heaven's sake. Now they're bringing in criminals? This is a good neighborhood; I shouldn't have to worry about juvenile delinquents being around my teenage daughter and impressionable son."

She didn't bother arguing that one, instead she just said, "Don't make a big fuss out of it."

"Are you trying to tell me you liked him?"

"Of course I didn't like him; I am the parent of a teenage girl. But you're being entirely too obvious about it. Keep it up and Melissa is going to be able to see you don't like him."


"No, that is not good. She's 17, so that will only make him more appealing to her. She's also too protective of everyone, she will always try to protect the wounded party, and he already has the abandoned and alone thing there, a very nice foundation. He also has the sullen, wounded, hardened by life thing going for him, and of course Melissa, being Melissa and a teenage girl to boot, will want to fix him, make him feel better. God knows we don't need that. If she thinks you don't like him she will want to protect his tender feelings and she will like him that much more to make up for it so he doesn't feel rejected. If we love the boy she has no reason to protect him and nothing ever has to come out of his handshakes and other ploys. Melissa is an intelligent girl, she doesn't need to get caught up in a meaningless fling, and if she's not around him, defending him, trying to protect him, she won't. So don't dislike him; sing his praise, be supportive. Don't make him more appealing than he's already trying to make himself."

She paused and turned in his direction. "If you want to dislike someone, put your energy into Brian."

"But I like Brian," Martin said, nonplussed.

"No you don't," Rita said. "We point out all of Brian's flaws. Hopefully the neighbor boy will even be stupid enough to make fun of him. He seems like the type to do that. Melissa will protect Brian... It would certainly make my life a lot easier."

He smiled and put a hand on each of her shoulders, looking at her in the mirror. "How did I get such a smart wife?"

She smiled. "You're just lucky, I guess."

Saturday Rita invited Brian Harrington and his stepmother Tanya over. Not knowing that piece of information, Melissa had invited her friend April over. It turned out to be quite the get-together.

"I want to meet the neighbor guy," April whispered.

"April, you just have to wait until Brian leaves."

April sighed and Brian glanced over at her, offering a charming smile.

Brian had short dirty blonde hair and really pretty green eyes. He was actually quite attractive, as all the girls at school noted.

According to Melissa's mother, he had his own issues, however, like the ones that had his father considering rehab for him over the summer. Of course that was all very hush hush among the adults, because no one wanted that sort of talk circulated. Melissa had heard the rumor in school, but she hadn't really heeded it until her mother caught wind of it and started complaining about it mercilessly. Rumors at Harlan were commonplace, and since she tried to avoid that aspect of high school, she mostly ignored them.

Melissa thought they were all being a little dramatic, but Brian didn't seem to care. She knew he had dabbled experimentally before, but rehab? That was ridiculous. Plenty of the kids in his circle had done that recreationally, and while she personally considered Brian's jaded little rich boy façade to be a bit tiring, it was still quite popular among her peers, and he was hardly the only one in their school to try to cultivate the image—he was just the only one to do it so well.

"Bored?" he asked her.

"Uh, yeah," April replied without hesitation.

Brian smiled, a dimple make itself visible. "Want to get away from the first and second wives club?"

April smiled. "Do we ever."

"Come on," he said with a nod, sitting up straight and getting to his feet. "Excuse us," he said diplomatically. "We're going to go for a walk if that's all right with you."

Rita glanced at Melissa and gave her a contemplative look, but she ended up nodding and saying, "That's fine."

Tanya was too busy with her drink to do more than nod and make an affirmative noise.

April and Melissa followed Brian out of the back yard, around to the front.

"Where are we walking to?" April asked, unconsciously moving over so that Melissa and Brian were standing side by side.

Melissa noticed and shot April a look. It was common knowledge that Melissa's parents and Brian's parents wanted – and expected—them to be a couple. It was the exact opposite of a Romeo and Juliet situation. They were always "unofficially" dating, and never actually around each other. There had initially been rumors about Brian "cheating" on Melissa with some girl, but then one girl ran into the next and Melissa didn't seem to care, so nobody else really cared anymore either. Some people even forgot to the point that they discussed whatever girl Brian happened to be with at the time in Melissa's company.

And Melissa didn't care. Her parents and his parents wanted them to date, get married, and eventually procreate—to be the perfect couple, but Melissa wasn't into the idea. Sure, he was nice enough—if the hot, anti-ambitious uber-smart rich kid with a trust fund and a bunch of wasted potential was your type—and pretty much everything a girl her age seemed to be looking for in a boyfriend, especially in their circles.

But there was just something missing, something that just wasn't there. (Interest, maybe?) However, neither one of them rejected it or officially dated anyone else; it was sort of an unwritten understanding. They both decided to just humor their parents, since for some unknown reason their families had decided ages before that they should be together. So they just went on casually talking or not talking, whatever felt right at the time, but never agreed or disagreed if the subject came up of them being together. Brian had even escorted Melissa around a couple times. Of course all of that was before Rita decided that Brian was troubled. Melissa didn't know what was expected now.

"We could just roam the streets," Brian suggested, glancing at Melissa as if for an okay.

Melissa's gaze wandered over to the Harrison yard and she spotted Seth sitting at the base of a tree, holding a book. He seemed deeply engrossed in the book and Melissa smiled slightly. How did a person manage to look sexy sitting under a tree? Melissa wondered. She wasn't exactly into the outdoors, yet looking at him in his jeans and black T-shirt, sitting there, hair slightly mussed, reading...

Brian jerked her out of her thoughts, grabbing her arm and pulling her into his side, saying, "Melissa."

Her eyes widened slightly and she looked at him, stopping. "What?"

"You just about walked into a tree," he stated, having the courtesy to keep a completely straight face as he said it.

She looked at the tree about a foot in front of her and flushed, then she looked over, realizing he had jerked her right up against his side and she blushed more. "When did I become such a spaz?" she asked no one in particular.

April tried to stifle a giggle. "Um, I take it that's the neighbor guy."

Melissa looked up and saw Seth looking right at her. Without realizing it, she quickly put a space between herself and Brian. "Oh, yeah. Um, we should go say hi."

"What neighbor guy?" Brian asked, following Melissa.

"The Harrisons have a new foster child. Well, I guess he isn't really a child, but you know what I mean. He's a foster…person," she said, frowning slightly as she tried to think what the politically correct term would be. "Whatever. Anyway, his name's Seth."

She walked over closer to the 'foster person' in question and smiled at him. "Hi."

Seth glanced over at Brian and then back to Melissa. "Hey."

"What are you reading?" she asked with a friendly smile.

"A book," he said, sitting it down on the ground.

"Very descriptive," Brian said with a casual smile. "I bet it has pages, too."

Seth merely nodded. "The best ones usually do."

"So, why are you sitting under a tree?" Melissa asked with a smile.

"I'm hiding from Dawn," he said, referring to another one of the Harrisons' foster children.

"Oh, she's sweet," Melissa said.

"She's like a shadow. The only way I could get a moment of peace was to hide," he stated, indicating the tree.

Melissa nodded and smiled. "Yeah, she can be pretty…attentive." Then, noticing he glanced from Brian to April and back again, she said, "Oh, I didn't introduce you. Seth, this is my friend April," she said gesturing to April, "and Brian."

"Hi," April said.

"Hey," Brian said with a nod.

Seth nodded at Brian and then glanced at April. "Hey."

"Seth's going to be going to Harlan," Melissa said.

Brian rolled his eyes. "Lucky him."

"Have you read the first of the nine stories yet?" she asked Seth.

He shrugged. "I'll get around to it."

"That's Monday's work," Brian said with a nod.

"Thanks for the memo," Seth said.

Brian and Seth made eye contact for a moment where April and Melissa felt like complete intruders, and Melissa really didn't know who won the eye contact match, but Brian finally glanced at her and said, "Ready for that walk?"

Melissa nodded, looking back to Seth. "Well, I'll see you around."

"Yes you will," he said with a slight nod.

"So... enjoy the book," she offered with a smile.

"I will," he replied, picking the book up and seeming to forget they existed.

Melissa frowned slightly but shrugged inwardly and walked away with Brian and April.


After walking around the neighborhood several times Brian sighed and said, "Okay, I know these streets as well as I know my own. What do you want to do now?"

"I vote I get the video camera and we go find your neighbor and I video all of you so we can play around and make a music video tonight," April said.

"A music video?" Brian asked.

"Mm hmm," she said with a nod. "Melissa is very good at the music video making. We get video and she edits the clips and stuff and she can make little music videos. We've staged them a few times. We have that one clip of us watching television and I have a love triangle song in my head, so if I could get footage of you and Melissa and Mr. Brooding Bookworm we can twist and edit until it looks like you guys actually glowered at each other and had eye wrestling matches for the video. Not to mention it's tons of fun to advise Melissa on what to do, what clips to use. When the video's finished it's so fun to watch it, but also kind of frustrating. The last video she made only lasted about four minutes and it took about nine hours to get the footage and the editing and everything working to make the video right. You wouldn't believe how much work it is."

Brian raised an eyebrow. "I didn't know that. Is that what you're planning to do?" he asked Melissa.

She blushed. "I don't know, it's just a hobby. I doubt I'm actually good enough to do it for a living."

He shrugged. "But if you studied it in college they would work out the kinks and then you would know how to do it for a living."

"I don't know," she said. "I don't really know what I plan to do yet. It really is just a hobby. It's fun because I can make family music videos and things like that."

"Well, if it's what you want to do you should do it."

"I know, but what kind of job would I get? I mean, I don't exactly want to make MTV music videos."

"You could do anything, Melissa. You could do different stuff, commercials, do the behind the scenes stuff in movies. That's all the interesting stuff anyway. The people behind the scenes, the ones that you never see, they're the ones that make the movie. You could be that person, why not?"

She blushed again. "I don't know. You complimenting me is kind of weird."

He smiled. "Yeah, I'm not overly used to it myself, but it's true. I mean, if you have the talent and you like the work do something with it."

"You don't know if I have the talent, you're just taking April's word for it."

He playfully draped an arm around her shoulder and gave her love struck eyes. "I think you can do anything, Melissa."

Melissa started laughing and told him, "Yes, you could definitely be an actor."

He smiled. "Aw, stop, you'll make me blush."

She rolled her eyes and shook her head, still grinning.

"So, take me to your movies."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm sick of walking around, let's go in and see some of those music videos. I'll judge your talent for myself."

"Okay," Melissa said with a smile, walking up toward the house. "But I'll warn you, they're just beginner movies, so don't expect anything too mind blowing."

"I've been warned. How many do you have?"

"I have seven, then there's a few clips and stuff I still have to use. One of my videos is in the making, but it started raining and everything got all screwed up. I was wearing this fabulous pink bridesmaid gown, and how often are fabulous and bridesmaid gown used in the same sentence? But I was. It was when I was in Dana's wedding and she had it at that castle. So I'm running down this stretch of road next to the castle and I didn't even know anyone was recording, but I'm running down and then it starts raining and my hair's falling and I'm a mess, my dress is wet... Awful. But April still wants to use it, make it like the end of a video. We can really reshoot the ending scene, I actually have an idea, but I need a guy."

"Famous last words," he replied.

She shot him a look as she opened the door. "Haha. No, but I do, because I need to shoot the ending unless I just want to use me running for absolutely no reason, which I actually could do, but just so I have options I want to shoot something where I'm in a wooded area -because the castle was in a wooded area, so I really have to use a wooded area- and I'll do something corny like run into his arms and kiss him and my hair will be ugly and my dress a mess, but it will work for the music video so I'll be happy."

"We haven't actually decided on a song yet, though. I was thinking Kelly Clarkson," April said. She gasped. "Oh my gosh, you have to recruit Seth, he'll be perfect for a music video to Beautiful Disaster."

"Oh, I don't know. I mean he definitely would. Did I tell you he went to juvie? But anyway, he would, but I really don't think he's the music video type."

"Oh," she said, waving dismissively, "he doesn't need to know. You just hang out with him and I'll get video."

"Hi," Brian said, waving, "I'm still here and I'm not used to being ignored." He gave an exaggerated pout, which—as intended—made him look adorable.

"Sorry," Melissa said insincerely.

"Mm, I can see Just Missed the Train, too. You two look really good together, but I need some footage of you in bed."

Melissa guffawed. "Okay, I'm not that dedicated to my art."

April grinned. "Prude," she accused teasingly. "No, that isn't what I meant. I mean you two in bed, platonically, the only touching involved is really you putting your arm on his shoulder and turning him over. Oh, I can see it. Please, Lissa? You said we'd make a video together equally, we can do this one."

"I am not going to ask someone I barely know to get in bed with me and let my friend video us."

Brian shrugged, his eyes dancing with amusement. "I don't know, he might be into that kind of thing," he suggested.

She shot him a look. "You are not helping. You're supposed to back me up by saying what an awful idea this is."

"Of course it's an awful idea. I mean, I'm sure he would have no problem being in a bed with you, but I highly doubt he would want it to be a platonic thing for a Kelly Clarkson music video." He shrugged, raising his eyebrows. "Now, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he's a closet Kelly fan, but I somehow doubt it."

"What do you think the chances are of getting him to say lines? We could use him and make a mini movie," April suggested.

"Based on the first impression, I would say highly unlikely," Brian said.

"No one asked you, Richie," April said, scowling. She smiled at Melissa. "We need a bigger crew. We should recruit Richie Rich and the Broody Bookworm and they could help us. It would be so much easier to do this with more people. Remember when we shot the scene of us watching tv? It's so much harder to do it and we have to stay in one place. It would open up so many doors for us."

"What is with you and nicknames?" Brian asked, shaking his head.

"I like nicknames. They're fun." She looked at Melissa. "What do you think? We'll recruit them if only for a couple videos. Definitely Seth for Just Missed the Train and or Beautiful Disaster, and we can either use Brian for an extra video man or cast member. I so definitely want to use them in a love triangle video. I love those videos."

"How come you're never in one?" he asked.

"I don't like how I look on video and I couldn't be objective enough. I would hate them all. As fabulous as I am, I was born without the photogenic gene, and Melissa has it." She squealed. "I'm so excited. I can see the videos coming together."

"Don't get too excited, April. I haven't asked Seth, and I really doubt that I'm going to."

April's face fell. "What? Why?"

"For one thing, I don't know him very well, and he's starting a new school and we all know how much work Harlan gives you. It will probably be overwhelming for him."

"Yeah, and I have a life," Brian chimed in. "Not to mention if I spend too much time with Melissa the parents will probably start checking out wedding dresses."

Melissa nodded, looking at her best friend doubtfully. "He makes a good point."

April shook her head. "And you call yourself artists. Not willing to make any sacrifices."

Melissa smiled and sat down in the computer chair, opening up the window she needed. "Okay, this one is the first video I made..."

He was smoking.

Melissa felt like an idiot sitting in a dark living room peeking through the curtain to the front yard at her neighbor's house, yet there she sat, spying on her neighbor for no good reason at all. If she had any brains at all she would be upstairs asleep like normal people. But then again he should be sleeping, too. It was Sunday, technically already Monday, Seth's first day of school.

She had never found smoking attractive. She had always thought it was stupid and she was often annoyed by it, but she watched in morbid fascination as he took a drag of his cigarette and then took it out of his mouth, blowing smoke into the air, and watched it disappear into the night. She watched as he scuffed the toe of his boot on the sidewalk and leaned back up against the house, looking up at the sky. Despite herself, she wondered what he was thinking about as he looked up at the stars. She continued to watch as took another puff of his cigarette and this time, instead of dropping it off to his side as he blew the smoke out the corner of his mouth, he just stared at the cigarette.

She couldn't take it anymore. Melissa quickly unbraided her hair as she slipped on a pair of shoes and slipped silently out of her house.

Well, maybe not so silent, she thought as Seth's gaze darted over at her as if a drum roll had announced her exit. She blushed but knew he couldn't see it.

She smiled slightly as he approached, watching him take another drag of the cigarette.

"Those will kill you, you know," she said, feeling it was only fair to warn him.

He smirked and gave an almost soundless laugh. "Yeah, I know."

"Do you care?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Nope," he replied without inflection. "I'll eat some garlic when I'm done and I'll be good to go," he said, half smiling at her.

She wanted to shove her hands in her pockets but she had no pockets, so she had to settle for clasping her hands together and looking away into the street as if she actually had something to look at. "What are you doing out here?"

His shoulders lifted in an indolent shrug and he took another drag of his cigarette before dropping it to the ground and using his foot to stomp it out silently. He blew the smoke out right in her face and she wrinkled her nose up, causing him to smile reluctantly. "I take it you don't like cigarettes?"

This time it was her turn to shrug. "It just seems to me there are more exciting –not to mention faster— ways to kill yourself."

He smirked mirthlessly. "Ah, but there's the rub. Waiting's the best part."

She felt the ridiculous urge to shiver and it had nothing to do with the weather. She crossed her arms anyway though and rubbed her arms a little bit. "I disagree," she said.

He nodded. "That's your right."

There was a pause before she spoke again. "Do you really like it here?"

"In suburbia?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. Then he shrugged, leaning back against the house. "One playground's the same as the next, I guess, they're just decorated differently."

She didn't know how to respond to that comment so she just hugged herself tighter and looked around, wondering what in the world possessed her to walk out there. She should be in her bed, warm and cozy and sleeping. Instead she was standing outside in perfectly normal weather, the night actually warmer than usual, and she was shivering. She hadn't realized how dark it was out either, but it was incredibly dark. She should be in bed. So should he. They both needed to go inside and go to sleep.

"Afraid of the dark?"

She gasped a little, not expecting to hear his voice for some reason and then gave a little laugh at herself. "Oh. Um, no, not really. Are you?" she asked with a smile of amusement for even having asked the question.

"No. I used to be," he admitted blandly. "But it's grown on me." He shrugged and gave her a sideways glance. "I blend in."

That was true, she thought as she looked at him, all in black from his head to his feet, only the tan color of his arms where his shirt was rolled up to the elbows was showing, and other than that he was one with the darkness.

"Kind of like the phantom," she said without thinking. Then she nearly slapped herself. Nothing like making yourself look like a geek, she thought.

But instead of laughing at her, giving her a funny look, or writing her off as a dork, he smirked and gave a slight nod. "Exactly."

Then he stopped leaning against the house and moved closer, his movements reminding her of a panther stalking its prey. He stopped behind her. "Gotta give the guy credit for figuring things out first though," he said quietly, his nearness causing her heart to flutter, and she could feel the heat radiating from his body which gave her a strange primal thrill like she had never known before. Then he lifted her arm and she was helpless to do anything but turn her head and watch as he lightly ran his hand up and down her arm, causing goose bumps to raise all over her body. "It really does heighten each sensation." He ran the pad of his thumb lightly over the pulse point on her wrist and then placed her hand back at her side, taking a step back. "Good night, Melissa," he said, turning back toward the house.

Eyes wide, she walked back to the house as fast as she could and never once considered looking back over her shoulder.

Seth gave a mirthless laugh as she scrambled into the house and ran his hand over his chin before shaking his head and walking back into the house.


For reasons Melissa couldn't admit, the only song her CD player played the next morning as she got ready for school was Music of the Night from her Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. She had a strange high-strung feeling about her, a tense feeling in her gut that wouldn't go away. At the same time she hated the feeling it gave her sort of a quick thrill for a brief second every now and then. When she was thinking as her usual self she was horrified by it, completely uneasy. But there was another side, a hidden side that found the prospect – although she still wasn't able to define exactly what the prospect was—delicious. Every time she thought about what "the prospect" might be she thought of his hands on her, his body so close she could feel the heat through her night clothes, his breath on her neck.

Oh man, those were not good thoughts to be having.

The sense of unease was back. Every time she thought about it she felt like wringing her hands. She pictured him perfectly at home in the darkness, puffing on the cigarette, then walking up behind her, and even though she couldn't see him physically, in her mind's eye she could see every move he made. It always made her want to wring her hands.

By the time she was putting her backpack on she was able to objectively question her priggish reaction to the whole ordeal. She was 17 years old, for pity's sake. Granted she was an incredibly inexperienced 17 year old, only ever having felt a boy was "cute" and never having more than an innocent interest in any of them. But she was used to that. She knew what other people her age did, just as she knew that she wasn't like them. She knew two girls her age who had already had an abortion while she had never even owned a condom. Her face flushed a little just thinking the word condom.

April was right, she realized. She was a complete prude.

A prig in its truest form.

Seth must have been inwardly laughing so hard at her with her sensitivity to him touching her arm. Her arm! He stood near her and touched her arm, and she acted like he had pulled out a condom and asked if she had a few minutes to spare.

She was a dork and a prude and she annoyed herself. She walked down the stairs with a scowl, and when April greeted her, her normal cheerful self, Melissa just grumbled a hello and walked sullenly to school while April rambled obliviously.

"No, I get to sleep with him first."

"Absolutely not, I saw him first."

"Ashley, I am not going to argue with you about this," the blonde girl said, flipping her hair with a little extra attitude as she adjusted her skirt. "I get him first. You can have him when I get bored."

Melissa stood there with the world's unfriendliest expression on her face.

That was an actual conversation she overheard between the school slut and her friend, a school slut in training. The subject of their mutual lust was, of course, Seth Verelli. She was completely disgusted with them both, not only for being shallow and obnoxious, but for giving girls everywhere a bad name.

"Well, say what you want," Ashley replied. "I guess we'll just see, won't we?"

"You are not seriously challenging me, are you?" said the other girl with a slight smirk.

"Excuse me," Melissa said harshly as she tried to get past them.

"PMS much?" Ashley responded, rolling her eyes.

Melissa just rolled her eyes and kept walking. Why did she ever have to go outside last night? Why couldn't she have stayed in bed? Then maybe she would have been okay with half the female population of the school lusting after her neighbor. But no, she had to meet him first and let him touch her arm, so it actually got on her nerves a little when she had to hear a fight about who got to sleep with him first. It was completely ridiculous!

"Hey," a male voice said beside her.

"Oh, thank God," Melissa said, grasping Brian's arm. "Quick, are you in lust with Seth?"

He frowned thoughtfully. "Um, last time I checked, no."

"Good, stay with me," she said, tucking his arm under hers and walking with him.

He smiled. "What's wrong?"

"This is freaking unbelievable," she said. "I just heard an actual argument about who gets to sleep with him first. I'm completely serious. They're discussing it. Who does that? I mean, sure, maybe in a dumb parody movie or something, but in real life, who actually does that? It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life, and look at where we go to school—I have seen some ridiculous things." She shook her head. "It's so... he's just a guy. They act like they've never seen one before. Could they be any more pathetic?"

Brian just shrugged. "They'll get bored in a week or so, give it time."

"Sluts," she muttered.

"Yes," Brian agreed with a nod.

"I just don't understand, why is the focus on him? How many guys go to this school? A lot. So why is Seth the big topic of conversation, if you can even call it that? Oh, I could just-" She cut herself off, shaking her head irritably.

"He's the latest accessory on the market, Melissa. Soon he'll be out of style and something else will occupy their short attention spans."

Rolling her eyes, she said, "They're just so…whorish."

Nodding, Brian asked, "You talked to him yet today?"

"What, and squeeze through his throng of groupies? Are you serious?" She glanced over at Brian. "How long did you say until they get bored?"

"Well, I would have said until they found out he doesn't have any money, but they aren't interested in a relationship, if you know what I mean, so money really isn't relevant. Slumming is actually part of the appeal." He shrugged. "At this point I can only guess until the newness wears off or until a particularly loose lipped female sleeps with him and thinks he's no good in bed."

Melissa briefly thought back to the brief encounter the night before. "I wouldn't put any money on that one," she muttered.

He shook his head. "Probably not. In order to be as confident as he is the guy has to know what he's got to offer. He probably is pretty good in bed."

"Okay, blunt talk getting uncomfortable," she said.

He smiled. "The male population hasn't decided what to make of him yet, in case you're interested. It seems to be a love him or hate him thing. You either snub him because he isn't 'suitable company' or you see the way every female around him flocks to him and find yourself reluctantly respecting him. I'm already seeing a couple pathetic souls who have never been laid having a case of hero worship, too." He shrugged a little. "I'm actually a bit curious to see where it all goes."

"I don't get it. He doesn't even talk. I mean, he can talk, but he doesn't choose to, so how has he managed to impress them?"


She nodded.

He shook his head. "As far as I've seen, he hasn't. Kristen Connors, you know her?"

"Of course, the school slut who was arguing over which one got to be his bed partner first."

He nodded. "He blatantly blew her off. I don't know if he knew she was the queen bee and decided to start at the top or what, but she sat down on his desk and started flirting with him and he sat there the whole time she talked, watching with his arms crossed, and then when she leaned down toward him he asked her to get off his notebook."

Melissa laughed for the first time that day. "Really?"

He nodded with a faint smile. "I was standing right there or else I wouldn't have believed it."

"What did she do?"

"She nearly fell off the desk she was so shocked. I was, too, really. He had looked amused for a few seconds and I figured— well, she's Kristen Connors, you know what I figured."

Melissa rolled her eyes and nodded. "Yep. Wow," she said with a little smile.

Brian nodded. "I'm finding myself among the group who hasn't decided what to make of him, yet you can't help respecting him just a little."

"A good group," she said with an approving nod.

"Well, I should probably get to class," he said.

"Thank you," she said with a smile. "You've made me feel much better."

"You're welcome," he said with a smile. He offered her a little wink before turning and going in his own direction.

Melissa sighed, holding her books close to her chest and walked in to her classroom.

Seth was in her AP English class.

She saw him right away, and she could almost see how the other girls threw self-respect to the wind and flocked around him like dogs awaiting a crumb at the dinner table. He was sitting there in the ridiculous school uniform looking completely bored. Black hair, dark eyes, black pants. The red stood out like it did on everyone, and Melissa had never been so aware of how terrible the uniform was, but he managed to make it look appealing, sitting there leaning on his elbow, not sitting up straight as you were supposed to. He had a pencil behind his ear and he just looked so bored.

Always alert to everything around him, Seth's gaze casually went to the door to see the new arrival, but his gaze sharpened slightly when he saw Melissa and he gave a tiny smile. Much to Melissa's own embarrassment she was so pleased to have his attention that she gave him a tiny wave. Brian, who was sitting on Seth's left grimaced and hid his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking with barely silenced laughter. Melissa flushed and slid into the nearest available seat. Stupid, stupid girl! She was as dumb and flighty as the rest of them, waving like a moron. She wanted to hide her face but she was embarrassed enough without drawing attention to herself. What was it about him that made her feel compelled to make an absolute fool of herself? she wondered.

"Okay, class," the teacher said with a sigh as she walked around her desk to stand in front of it. "We have a new student with us today, for those of you who don't already know." She offered a smile and look at Seth. "Seth Verelli."

He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head to the right a little.

Her smile dimmed a little and she scanned the class. "Make sure to make him feel welcome."

Seth rolled his eyes heavenward but didn't say anything.

"Okay. Seth, did you read the first story in Nine Stories?" the teacher asked.

He nodded.

"Okay," she said. "Everyone has read A Perfect Day for Bananafish? Anyone care to open discussion?" She looked around at the variety of bored looking teenagers playing with their cell phones, tapping their manicured fingernails, or playing with their pens and pencils, but nobody said anything. "Does anybody have any comments at all?"

"I liked it," a girl in glasses offered.

"Okay, good," the teacher said, looking encouraged. "Why?"

"I like Salinger's writing," she said, blushing.

"Okay," the teacher drawled, her enthusiasm ebbing already. "Does anyone have any opinion at all about this story? Did you read the story? Surely you had some thoughts while reading it."

"I thought it was stupid," a guy with curly blond hair piped up.

"Okay," she said with a nod. "Why?"

"For one thing that Seymour guy was a total pervert. I mean, he's kissing the little girl's feet and stuff. He's sick. And the whole story about bananafish is just dumb and pointless. Who cares about bananafish? And then he yells at the woman in the elevator." She shook his head. "By the time he blows his brains out I'm thinking, it's about time, you should've done that ten pages ago."

She nodded, raising her eyebrows. "Okay. So you think Seymour is a pedophile?"

The guy scoffed. "Yeah. And what was with his girlfriend? What was the point of her even being in the book?"

"Idiot," Seth muttered under his breath, shaking his head.

The teacher, however, picked up on the disturbance and her eyes went straight to Seth. "Did you say something, Mr. Verelli?"

"Not really," he replied.

"Really? I could've sworn I heard your voice. If you have an opinion, please share it. There will be no flippant remarks made in my classroom, so please only say something if you wish to share it with everyone," she said, her voice stern and challenging.

He sat up a little bit and said, "Okay, I did say something."

"What was that?" she asked with a pleasant enough smile, probably assuming that she was bringing a student out of his shell.

"I said, 'idiot.'"

Her smile waned. "Excuse me?"

"I have heard nothing but how smart you have to be to get into this school, and this is an advanced placement course, so how the hell does someone that ignorant get into this class?"

Her mouth formed a thin line and she said, "I encourage you to watch your mouth, Mr. Verelli, and if you have an opinion about the book please share it, but if you don't mind leaving student placement to the school, that would be quite appreciated. I didn't see you falling all over yourself to share an opinion, so pray tell, what makes his answer idiotic to you?"

Seth raised an eyebrow as if pondering and then said, "Well…everything. There is really nothing about that little rant that could even be misconstrued as meaningful. Seymour is not a pedophile, he's obsessed with innocence. That's not normal, I'll give you that, but it doesn't make him a pervert. When he kissed her foot he didn't just kiss her foot, he kissed the arch, and it's symbolic — sacred. A child that young is typically all innocence and he was appreciating that. What else was there? Ah, the wife was there to fill us in on Seymour's character. She let us know through the phone call that he had been having problems, that he had been in the war, they even hinted that he had tried to kill himself by driving into a tree. She gave us information that we wouldn't have known otherwise, that way the story made sense. That leads us to the bananafish. They were also symbolic. Salinger did that a lot, put symbols in his stories. I recommend you find a study guide and reread all his books, by the way," Seth directed at the less literary blond guy. "The bananafish story was about the war. They go in ordinary, then they go in and devour the bananas and they're so consumed with it that they can't get out. It's about the war, the soldiers are the bananafish, and them being so fat they can't get out is generally assumed to symbolize the guilt of all the killing, everything they had to go through."

"But why does he kiss the girl's foot?" the blond guy asked, seeming a little more open to the story.

Seth shrugged. "Sybil had just said she saw a bananafish. Obviously only the innocent could imagine seeing a bananafish, and Seymour is fascinated by her innocence, probably because he feels he doesn't have any left. He doesn't mean anything perverted by kissing the arch of her foot."

"But why does he yell at the woman for looking at his feet?" the guy asked. "It doesn't make any sense."

"There was speculation that Seymour lost his leg in the war, and that was what that was about. It would also explain why he had been in the hospital," Seth explained, but his voice was more patient than annoyed.

"But he was walking and he drove, he had two feet, right?"

Seth shrugged. "Doesn't mean it was a real leg. People have lost legs before; it could've easily been artificial."

The guy nodded. "Why does he kill himself though?"

"Because he's an overstuffed bananafish," Seth said simply.

By this point everyone in the class was turned to look at him. Seth shrugged and leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms and looking at the teacher, the passion gone from his voice when he said, "That's my opinion, at least."

The teacher cracked a little smile. "If we can divest you of that attitude, Mr. Verelli, you might be a very promising student," she told him.

"Good luck," he said with a tiny smile.

She smiled ruefully and rolled her eyes before turning her attention back to the rest of the class.


Melissa was impressed with his rant about Salinger, but when the teacher told them to work in pairs Melissa was extremely unimpressed by the fact that about seven of the females headed straight for Seth, claws drawn and waiting to grab him. The one that got there first was a very pretty brunette, and Melissa watched with a frown as she smiled, giggled, and placed her hand on Seth's arm.

"The school is full of obnoxious whores," she muttered.

"Don't call me names," Brian said. He gave a pout. "It makes me sad."

She rolled her eyes, smiling reluctantly. "Are you my partner?"

He sighed. "Since Seth appears to be taken I guess I'll have to settle for you. It's a shame, too. I was really ready to make my move on him, you know?"

She shook her head, rolling her eyes. "You're such an idiot sometimes. Come on, let's get this over with."

"Yes, ma'am," he said, sliding into the empty seat by her desk.

A/N: For a minute, I missed being 17 as I edited this.

Anyway, bear with me a little, I was in my phangirl phase as I started this story, so…homage to Phantom of the Opera!

And if you're swimming in sterotypes, never fear-- if you haven't read any of my stories, I will assure you, all of my characters develop actual personalities. I don't do "sterotypes," that's just so...stereotypical. ;)

There's more to come, and if you guys like the beginning I won't take very long to update, 'cause I have the second chapter written, I just have to edit it because it's been on the shelf for so long.

Hope you (at least kind of) liked it!