AN: Oh me, oh my. I'm sorry this chapter took so long to get out. There were a few days when I even considered completely rewriting this story with a third person POV. Thank goodness, I snapped out of that. Anyway, this chapter is significantly longer than the previous ones if that's any consolation. Unfortunately, that's all I have to offer.

Thank you to Twist Their Emotions, Casfar, Jane's Eyes of Horus, eshlie, and Hahukum Konn for reviewing the last chapter.

And since it was a oneshot, I'd like to send another thank you to those who reviewed Why I Do Not Praise the Porcelain Gods. Those wonderful people are Noie, Hahukum Konn, xLittleBlackConverse, Linece, Cupid's Jinx, writingxonxwalls, Feeling Lucky, Oooh Look A Cat, ukrgrl, mtgurl, SparklingStar25, EnChAnTed-KoReAn, Myrn, and KM Yaneth. Thank you also to those who marked it as a favorite. I didn't expect that big of a response, so thank you! If you haven't checked it out yet, please do. It was heaps of fun to write.

All right. So with the shameless plugging over, let's get on with the chapter. Enjoy, and please review!

Chapter VIII
Pinky Swear

I struggled in his arms, erratically tossing my weight from side to side, in an effort to dislodge myself from his hold, but his grip only tightened, his fingertips digging into the soft flesh exposed from when I crashed into him.

"Careful, Lia."

Upon hearing the old nickname, my jaw clenched and my eyes narrowed into sharp slits. I wanted to glare at him with all my might, but from my awkward position, precariously bridging him and the chair, all I could do was thrust the evil eye at the floral wallpaper. The large sunflowers mockingly beamed at me. Fueled by mounting frustration, my twisting became more and more intense. I could feel the muscles in his arms straining to keep his hold on me.

"You're the one that ought to be careful. Let me go!"

"I don't think that's a good idea," he replied, voice tight from concentration.

"Let me go!" I repeated.

"No. You'll hurt yourself."

I squelched the urge to verbally question his newfound concern about my wellbeing. It was like he was never gone in the first place, but those ten years did happen, and I did remember them, even if he wanted to forget. Defiantly, I continued to squirm until I managed to yank my foot from the wooden web of the open chair back.

Immediately my feet slid off of the seat, colliding into the floor with a thud. I swallowed a moan as I shifted my weight forward causing pain to throb up my leg. The movement was so abrupt that the young man behind me was forced to lurch forward.

But his hands remained firm on my hips even as I straightened, and though I would never admit it to him, I was grateful for the support. My sense of balance must have been thrown off by the fall for I wobbled ridiculously on my legs like a buoy in stormy seas. I instinctively grabbed onto his upper arms, barely registering the fact that my fingers failed to curl all the way around his limbs before I remembered exactly who I was clinging on to. I tried to pull away but he was ready for the retaliation with his feet firmly planted into the ground, his grip steady.

"What the hell are you doing here, Jackson?" I demanded.

Finally, I was able to direct my scowl at its intended victim and not the innocent floral, but Jackson was just as unaffected by the imaginary daggers hurled by my eyes. Blatantly disregarding my hostility, his mouth curved into a soft smile.

"Why haven't you called me yet?" He asked lightly, his tone not carrying any hint of spite. My chest felt strangely hollow when I couldn't even detect any disappointment. His nonchalant behavior was grating on my nerves.

"Jackson, I'm serious. What are you doing here? You shouldn't be here."

The smile momentarily slipped from his face before resurfacing as a smirk. His eyes still glittered in the bright indoor lighting as he began kneading my sides. "Relax. I'm not stalking you."

I tried to flick his hands away but they wouldn't detach themselves, so I covered them with my smaller ones, effectively ceasing further movement. Then I stared at him sternly, not amused by his uninformative explanation.

"I'll pinky swear on it if you want me to," he offered candidly.

The frown marring my features deepened. He'd said those words countless times before. Some kids swore on their sugared lunchtime snacks, and others, their family pets, but Jackson had always used the pinky swear as a stamp of truth. He'd never lied on a pinky swear before, never broke his promises until that day, but now and then were two very different times. Almost like two different lives.

We silently stared each other down, annoyance clashing with mirth, until Jackson heaved a sigh. His hands simultaneously relaxed, but he still refused to completely drop them. "I swear I didn't even know you would be here. I'm just doing Tristan a favor. He asked me to come and help out."

Lowering my head, I mulled over the news. It was a plausible excuse, but that didn't make me feel any better. On the contrary, I was quite disgruntled. Part of me had actually hoped he barged his way into the house. At least then, I could easily toss him out the front door and yell at him to never return.

I frowned at our feet. I expected to find them toe to toe. Instead, one of his sock-clad feet had managed to wedge its way between my own. Or was it mine that had unconsciously snuck between his? We were so close. It was bizarrely suffocating and comforting at the same time.

"It's almost been a full week," he said softly, recapturing my attention. I was in the process of tilting my head up to get a better look at him when his hands left my hips and weaved beneath my arms and around my back, drawing me into a loose hug. My cheek pressed lightly against the soft cotton of his sweater. "Why can't we be friends? We can start over if you want, forget everything from before?"

I solemnly shook my head. "It's not that simple, Jackson," I replied, pushing on his chest, intending to make him move away, but he continued to hold his ground which sent me falling backwards. I stumbled back to catch my balance, inadvertently placing all of my weight on my left foot. I gasped at the pain and grasped the chair for support, tears welling at the corner of my eyes.

Concern instantly flooded Jackson's features. "What's wrong?"

Gritting my teeth together, I clenched my eyes shut, willing the pain to go away. There was no longer any pressure on my left foot, but the pain was taking far too long to fade away. With a deep breath, I composed myself and let go of the chair, cautiously standing erect. "I'm fine."

"Lia, now's not the time to be stubborn."

I glared at him, but he didn't even notice. He was too busy trying to get me to sit down into the chair.

"Is it your foot?" He asked, dropping to his knees once I was seated.

"I'm fine, Jackson," I insisted, shooing him away. "It's just a bruise. No biggie."

It was a strange view, peering down at the dark brown locks on his head. For a couple years we were approximately the same height, but I had never been taller than him, not even by a mere centimeter. It was like something out of a storybook; the prince, on bended knee, encasing Cinderella's foot in the delicate glass slipper, but this was no fairytale, and Jackson surely wasn't prince charming. He was about as trustworthy as the troll residing under the bridge.

"I don't believe that for a second. You're a poor liar."

"I'd rather be a poor liar than a good one like you," I quipped.

"Lia—" He began a reply, but I abruptly cut him off when I felt his fingertips graze the sensitive skin on my ankle.

"What are you doing?" I hissed, jerking my foot away from him.

Calmly, he wrapped his left hand around my lower leg, drawing it back towards him. "Assessing the damage of your accident prone ways." He glanced up briefly to flash a grin.

"Not you too," I muttered, recalling Trent's constant teasing. "I am not accident prone."

"Tell me that when I'm not checking you for an injury." His fingers cautiously massaged my ankle, searching.

"What makes you such an expert anyway?"

"I play hockey, remember? I know a thing or two about injuries, and then there were a few other ways." When he reached a particularly tender spot, I winced, and my leg twitched involuntarily. "Does that hurt?"

"No," I replied automatically. I didn't need his help, or his false concern for that matter.

Brushing Jackson away, I dropped my foot onto the wooden floorboard, and then with both hands gripping the sides of the chair, I stubbornly launched myself into standing position, but my ankle was unable to support the sudden weight and buckled under the pressure. Jackson barely rushed over in time to catch me.

Once I was upright again, I shoved away from him and began to stumble away, my face taut from concentration and pain. Luckily my expression was obstructed from Jackson's view. All he could see was the back of my head.

With hitched breath, I gingerly took another step. As I shifted my weight from my right to my left for the third step, I wobbled once more, swaying dangerously, threatening to topple over.

"That's it," I heard Jackson grumble behind me before he swept me into his arms and completely alleviated my ankle of all stress, but I was far from amused.

"Put me down," I commanded, wriggling in his arms.

"Where's the bathroom?" Jackson asked, striding out of the room and down the main hall as if he wasn't carrying anything at all.


He nudged a door open with his shoulder and peered inside to find the study. Unsatisfied, he turned on his heels and moved onto the next door. "Where is it, Lia?"

"You shouldn't be going through Bob's house like this!"

"Well then, you should tell me where it is."

"I will if you put me down."

"Sorry, no deal," he replied. He leaned back, shifting the bulk of my weight to his left arm so he could twist a door knob with his right hand. Lock undone, his hand returned to cradle my form as he tapped the door open with his toes. The edges of his lips drew downwards when he only found the laundry room. "I'm going to go through every door in this house if I have to, Lia. Tell me where it is, or we'll just be wasting time that could be better spent finishing the decorations."

My eyes rounded as I remembered the party. He was right.

"It's your call," he added, eyes fixed on another door. I knew it wasn't the one he wanted. It led to the garage where Tristan would be parking his car soon with his grandparents inside. As much as I didn't want Jackson's help, I couldn't risk not having everything ready in time and ruining the party. I couldn't risk disappointing Trent and his family.

I sighed, utterly defeated. "There's a powder room at the end of the hall—last door on the left—and one full bathroom upstairs."

"Thank you." Jackson sounded sincere in his gratitude, but I only nodded back mutely.

He quickly located the desired room and pushed open the door before depositing me on the countertop next to the basin. I curiously eyed him as he rummaged through the various cabinets, occasionally pulling out an item to more closely analyze it. After a minute passed, he dumped his spoils beside me. I glanced at the various tapes and bandages before staring directly into Jackson's eyes, silently asking what he was doing.

"I don't think you broke any bones or anything. It's probably just a sprain, but I'm going to wrap your ankle to give you some extra support," he explained as he carefully slid off my sock and then detached the edge of the medical tape from the roll. "I'm surprised they even have this stuff. Usually, most people just keep the elastic bandages around."

I shrugged. "Tristan. He plays hockey, you know. Knows a thing or two about injuries."

He smirked.

His fingers were unexpectedly nimble as they weaved the tape around my foot. He methodically smoothed the tape onto the skin, deftly ripped it from the roll, and then repeated the process until half my foot and lower leg were encased in a shell of tape. He moved quietly, exuding a gentle confidence and reminding me of the little boy who used to dominate the lunchtime games on the playground.

As he began winding the salmon-colored elastic wrap over the tape, I impulsively reached a hand out to playfully fluff his hair, a childish habit that used to annoy him to no end, but I always admired his hair. I found the rich brown so much more exciting than the flat black of my own locks.

Jackson tilted his head, looking up at me from where he was crouched on the floor tending to my ankle.

"Why didn't you tell me, Jackson? Why'd you promise me you'd be there when I didn't even ask you to?"

He opened his mouth to reply but then stopped. He shook his head. "It doesn't matter anymore," he said softly, returning his focus to the elastic wrap clutched in his hand.

I scowled. There was no way in hell I was accepting that as an answer.

"It does matter, Jackson. Even if it doesn't matter to you, it matters to me."

"Just let it go, Lia," he said.

"No, you hurt me, Jackson. I've kept questioning myself for years because of you. I don't want to question myself anymore. I want answers."

"I'm sorry."

"That's not going to cut it."

Jackson remained silent, working away. His gaze never strayed from my ankle.

"I can't forgive you if I don't understand you." My words were no louder than a whisper.

"Hey, there you are!"

I jolted at the unexpected voice, accidentally knocking over an extra rolled bandage as I twisted towards the doorway where Shane stood. His head was turned sideways as he yelled down the hallway. "They're over here!"

"Where's here?" Lexi's voice floated back.

"Bathroom," Shane replied. The location suddenly seemed to register in his mind as he shouted the word. Puzzled, he glanced around the tiny room. It was then that he noticed the rolls of tape and compression bandages as well as my ankle which Jackson was just about finished wrapping. His eyebrows shot up.

"What happened?" Shane asked as Lexi's head poked around him to get a better view.

"She fell off the chair while trying to hang the streamers," Jackson answered before I could even utter a word.

"Damn. Are you okay, Adelia?"

I nodded. "Jackson thinks it's just a sprain. I'll be as good as new before you know it."

"You should still go see a doctor just to make sure," Lexi suggested.

"Later," I said, sliding onto the floor. With a hand on the counter for support, I warily shifted my weight to my left leg, testing the wrap. The pain was still there to a degree, but the wrap offered some comfort. I released a sigh of relief before whispering a thank you to Jackson. I didn't dare glance at him though, still disappointed by his reluctance to tell me the truth. "Right now, we've got a party to get underway." I grinned at Shane.

As I hobbled towards him, he stepped forward. Bending his knees, he stooped low and snuck an arm around my waist. "Over the shoulders."

Obediently, I swung my left arm over his shoulder. "You're a little too tall to be my crutch, don't you think? I wouldn't want to be the cause of any future back problems," I said cheerfully.

"Minor details, Adelia. Minor details." Shane waved off my concern.

"It's not our fault, you're so much shorter than the rest of us, Addie," Lexi teased. Once Shane and I cleared the doorway, she latched onto my right side for more support.

"I knew I should have drunk more milk when I was little," I muttered dramatically.

"But you still are little."

I angled my head to stick my tongue out at the Amazonian woman. She just grinned down at me.

"Now, now, ladies. We've got walls to decorate and food to prep," Shane interrupted the exchange. Then, facing forward once again, he pointed down the hallway. "To the lounge!"

I chuckled and bobbed my head in agreement. "To the lounge."

Together, the three of use tottered away, pausing at every step in an attempt to synchronize our movements. We were so tightly squished together in the small passage that I seriously wondered if it would be more productive for me to hop around alone, but dismissed the thought. It was good to have the support of friends, to be engulfed by their warmth.

Halfway down the hall as Shane burst into laughter at our clumsiness, I glanced back at the bathroom, and for a second, the grin fell from my face. Jackson had yet to follow us.

I exhaled with as much force as I could muster, my cheeks rapidly deflating and loosing the chipmunk puff. When I was deprived of all air and sure to be blue in the face, I pinched the opening and gasped for a breath. Keeping the opening clamped shut with two fingers, I yanked on the rubber before twisting it into a tight knot. I tugged on the end once more for good measure before tossing the red balloon over my shoulder to join the rest.

I was about grab another balloon to blow up when the bag was swiped off the floor. I watched as Shane sifted through the packet. Drawing out a blue one, he plopped himself down and tossed the bag at me. "You looked a little lonely down here," he explained as he stretched the piece of rubber taut multiple times.

I smiled at him gratefully. "After the third balloon, it gets a little dull." I sighed. "Are you sure I can't help with anything else?"

He shook his head.

My lips pursed into a small frown, but the answer wasn't the least bit surprising. Lexi had already rejected me three times, claiming that she wouldn't have me risking further injury or straining myself. The final time, she banished me to the far corner of the living room and ordered me to blow up the balloons. I suppose she thought it would make me feel more useful, but I highly doubted we needed this many balloons. I already had a significant pile trapped between the side of the couch and the wall.

"Don't worry, we've got everything under control," Shane said. "I've already finished the streamers and lights, and Lexi and Jack are making good work on the food preparations."

I glanced over at our companions who were working away in the dining area on the far end of the room. Bob and Carrie didn't have a formal dining room. They claimed they had no need for one with only the two of them in the house.

My eyes locked onto Jackson as he poured a bag of potato chips into a large bowl, his palm tapping the bottom of the bag to make sure that everything fell out. Ten minutes after the rest of us managed to make it to the lounge, he finally rejoined us, but he didn't say so much as a single word to me. He just busied himself with the plethora of edibles that needed to be readied.

Shane's gaze followed mine, his mouth turning up at a corner. "Isn't it amazing how you guys just happened to run into each other after so many years? I mean, you guys grew up so far from here. Times like these make you realize how small the world really is."

I nodded mutely, not sure how to respond. It was an undeniably amazing coincidence, but it was a coincidence I would have been happy without.

"So, you guys used to be best friends, huh? I was pretty surprised when I first found out. Jack doesn't strike me as the type to be best friends with a girl—no offense."

I shook my head. "None taken."

"But when he asked me for your number, I figured it had to be true after all. Who knew? Our Jack, sensitive enough to have a female best friend. Tristan got a kick out of that one. I mean, Jack's known for pummeling guys on the ice."

Shane continued to ramble on, but my thoughts froze, honing in on that one fact. My jaw dropped slightly, my mouth rounding in realization.

So that was how he got my phone number. If only he had tried to call me ten years ago too, then things would be so different. I wondered if I'd still be as loud and brash as I once had been. I wondered if I'd be just as confident and cocky if he hadn't…

I shut my eyes tightly, halting my thought. I didn't want to think what could have been anymore. It was pathetic really.

Noting a grimace overtaking my features, Shane lapsed into a silence. Then he pulled on his still deflated balloon and flicked it at me. His lips curled into a sly smile. "I bet I can blow up more balloons than you."

I arched an eyebrow at the challenge.

"How on earth did this happen?"

"Adelia blew up more," Shane immediately replied before glancing sideways at the wall.

My nose crinkled at his innocent guise, and I tossed a balloon at his head. It ricocheted off and floated gently into his waiting hands. "It was your idea!"

Shane shrugged. "It's not my fault you beat me."

"But you initiated the race."

"But it was Lexi's idea to have you blow up the balloons."

I caught my bottom lip between my teeth thoughtfully. Shane was right.

Together, we turned to face said brunette who stood amidst a colorful ocean of balloons. Her hands were planted firmly on her hips expectantly, but upon finding both of our gazes honed in on her, her confidence fled and her shoulders slumped forward. "I didn't mean this many," she muttered.

Shane grinned. Palming a balloon, he plucked a pen from the coffee table and angled the tip towards the rubber. "Well then, we can just pop the ones we don't need," he announced cheerily before jabbing the balloon.

I jumped at the loud noise that ripped through the room before tossing another balloon at him. He poked it in mid-air causing the ball to burst into a misshapen scrap and plummet onto the balloons still littering the floor. It didn't have an ounce of grace.

As Shane grinned triumphantly, another balloon collided with the back of his head. He whipped around to find Lexi with her hands tucked behind her as she rocked back and forth on her feet, whistling all the while.

She might as well have signed a declaration of war, because a battle ensued with a chorus of pops and bangs mingled with cries of victory and defeat. It wasn't until a "What in the world?" bellowed from the entrance that we all stilled.

I closed my eyes.

This was not happening.

Unfortunately, when I reopened my eyes, I found Bob and Carrie with their mouths agape. Tristan and Trent were close behind, suitcases in hand.

Shane plastered a goofy smile on his face and grabbed a handful of confetti from a packet resting on couch. He tossed it into the air. "Surprise!" He yelled as the paper shreds pitifully fell.

"Happy anniversary!" Lexi piped in, tossing a balloon into the air.

"Oh, boy," I muttered, pinching the bridge of my nose. It was sad how quickly and effortlessly grand plans could go kaput. Trent must be so disappointed.

"Welcome home," another voice, low and rich, added. I glanced over at Jackson as he hauled himself from the dining room table to join the rest of the group. I had almost forgotten he was still here. He hadn't joined in the balloon fight. Instead, he just observed us silently from a chair he had turned around, its back touching the mahogany table.

I glanced tentatively at Bob, bracing myself for his reaction. Suddenly the shock on his features flittered away and a twinkle was caught in his eye.

"Surprise, indeed. As much as I hate to admit it, I'm not as young as I used to be," Bob said, thumping his chest with a fist.

"Yes, which is exactly why I keep telling you to eat healthier," Carrie reprimanded.

"Healthy smhealthly," Bob dismissed the advice and patted his slightly rounded stomach. "I'd rather be dead than live in a world without good-tasting food. I need real man-food, none of that grass you keep trying to feed me." His eyes trailed to the dining table where he spotted the assortment of snacks. "There better be some of my ice cream over there. The missus here wouldn't even let me touch any deserts while we were gone, and my stomach is in need of a good fix." He kissed Carrie on the temple before striding to the table, determined to find some goodies.

I smiled. "Nothing but the best, sir," I assured him.

Bob smiled back. "I knew there was a reason I hired you, Addie." As he grabbed a paper plate from the table, he turned back to the rest of us. He eyed us strangely. "Well, what are you all doing just standing there? You may not have exactly pulled off the surprise part, but don't give up on the party part just yet. We've still got a ways to go and all night to boogie."

"Pops," Trent groaned.

"Come on. I need to compensate for the disastrous plane food."

With that said, they bustled to the table, stacking their plates. As he sliced the cake, Bob noticed Jackson slipping on his jacket.

"Off so soon?" He called out.

Jackson paused in his attempt to align his zipper. He snapped his head up, surprised at being caught. "I was just here to help get the place ready. So I thought I would head home now that everything's done."

"Nonsense. Take that jacket back off and stick around."

Jackson looked back at Bob before glancing hesitantly at me, his eyes seeking permission. I bit the inside of my cheek and nodded curtly. It wasn't like it was really my decision to make anyway. As long as he stayed away, I'd be okay.

Turning back to Bob, he agreed to stay. The older man broke into a grin and ushered Jackson over to the table. "Good. Tell me your name. You've got to try my ice cream. Have you had it before?"

Jackson bashfully shook his head.

"Well, today's your lucky day! You're in for a treat, let me tell you!" Bob declared before launching into a full-blown monologue about his product.

As I looked away from the scene, my gaze caught Trent's. His green eyes had a twinkle in them. They were exact carbon copies of his grandfather's. His lips then drew into a smile and he mouthed a thank you. I returned the gesture.

Glad that both Trent and his grandparents were happy campers despite the botched surprise, I plopped myself onto one of the couches and carefully curled my legs so that they too rested on the seat. I leaned my head the side, resting it on the back of the couch, as my eyelids drifted closed. My finger gently traced the bandage on my ankle. The party may have just gotten underway and all of the guests may not have yet arrived, but I was already emotionally exhausted.

At a light poke on the shoulder, I reopened my eyes. Shane was holding out a plate stacked high with chips and cake.

"I wasn't really sure what you wanted."

My lips curled up in a soft smile. "Thanks," I said, accepting the plate.

"No problem," he replied, taking a seat beside me and placing his own plate on his lap. "I figured it would be best to bring the food to you instead of the other way around considering how long it took for Lex and me to haul you here. You sure are a heavy one, Miss Adelia Carrington," he joked.

"Hey!" I jabbed his upper arm playfully.

He quirked his eyebrow. "Remind me to teach you how to punch properly one day."

"Why?" I asked, absentmindedly tossing a potato chip into my mouth.

"Because that was the weakest punch I have ever seen or felt in my life."

"You don't want to see the real thing, bud."


"Yeah," I confirmed with a nod.

"Well then, you should also remind me to never get on your bad side."

I laughed. "I don't think I'll have to remind you of that any time soon."

"I hope not," Shane replied before his eyes fell on the crowd across the room.

Trent was deep in a conversation with Jackson and Bob. Meanwhile his younger brother chatted away with their grandmother, occasionally receiving a reprimand for using foul language.

"They seem really happy," Shane commented, his tone so wistful I felt an ache grip at my heart.

I placed a hand on his shoulder, snapping him out of his gloomy phase. He glanced back at me and offered a small smile.

"Thanks for coming today, Shane," I said sincerely.

He shook his head. "Thanks for inviting me. I'm glad I'm here." He was quiet for a moment, completely motionless, as he stared at a balloon taped to the wall in front of us. Then he returned his gaze to me, eyes staring directly into mine. "Adelia, I—"

"What are you lovebirds doing over here all by yourself?" Bob's voice cut in as his pleasantly plump form sauntered over.

Heat rushed up the back of my neck and to my cheeks as I took in his cheery demeanor. "I—we—we're not like that," I stuttered. "We're just friends."

I felt Shane's shoulder sag before I removed my hand and settled it on my lap.

"Oh, my apologies," Bob said. He scratched the back of his head, embarrassment tinting his cheeks a similar shade as I was sure mine were.

Setting his plate to the side, Shane stood to his full-height and extended a hand to the older man. "Hi, I'm Shane. I'm Tristan's roommate and I met Adelia at your shop. It's a great place."

Bob eyed Shane's hand before bypassing it and drawing him into a quick hug. Shane's mouth opened in surprise as Bob finished with a friendly pat on the back. "No need for formalities, boy. Thanks for helping out with everything. You all did well—a little lacking in the surprise, but the place looks great and the food selection's not half-bad if I do say so myself." His gaze shifted down to me, the edges of his eyes still crinkled from joy. "I hope Trent hasn't been giving you too much trouble, Addie."

"Not at all. He even managed to completely train the new hires."

"That's good to hear." Then his eyes drifted lower to my foot, and his mouth drooped into frown. "Oh, Adelia, I hope that's not what I think it is."

I giggled at his seriousness. "I'll be fine."

Unconvinced, he shook his head.

"Really, it's nothing. Jackson thinks it's just a sprain. I'll be fine to work and everything."

Bob sighed. "That's not what I'm worried about. If you even dare to come to work before that heals, you better be prepared to spend your whole shift in the backroom doing paperwork."

"But we don't have that much paperwork to do."

"Exactly." He waved his finger in agreement.

"I can still ring people up at the register."

"No, I don't want you standing for your whole shift. At least take a week off to recover, please?"

I sighed and accepted his terms.

Grin back in place, Bob glanced over at his wife who was beckoning him to the entrance where their neighbors had just arrived. "Duty calls," he said, but before he departed, he added, "Take it easy, Addie, and be more careful."

I nodded. "Will do."

Lazily, I raised my hand to cover my mouth as a yawn overtook me. My eyes involuntarily squinted in the process.

"Maybe, it's time we headed out," Shane suggested.

I shook my head. "No, it's okay. I'll just catch a ride home with Trent."

"I thought he was staying to clean up."

I nodded groggily. "I am too."

"But, you still need to go to the hospital to get your foot checked out."

"I can do it tomorrow."

"What if it's not just a sprain?"

"I'll be fine it," I assured him. "It can wait. I'd have to go to the emergency room if I went this late anyway. I'd rather not occupy their time when it's not really urgent."

"Maybe you should head out, kid," a new voice said.

I glanced over at Trent. "Even if you don't go see the doc tonight, you need to get some rest. You're still having trouble sleeping right?"

"A little," I admitted tiredly.

"Then come on, let's get you out of here," Trent said, offering me a hand. I took it and then leaned on him for support.

After bidding a farewell to Trent's grandparents and parents who had arrived about an hour earlier, Trent helped me into Shane's car. As Shane went around to the driver's side, Trent tugged the seatbelt around me. I stole it from him before he could slide it in, determined to clip it in myself. The click seemed to echo through the neighborhood. Streetlights created bright patches along the sidewalk, but other than the noise from within the Parker household, the area was quiet—granted a significant portion of the street's residents were currently in said house.

"I've got a sprained ankle, Trent. I can still put my seatbelt on perfectly fine."

"I know, but I can't help it," he replied with a half-smile. "You worry me sometimes."

I laughed and rolled my eyes. "I'm sorry for being accident prone. If I could turn it off, I would."

Trent smirked. "So you finally admit it?"

"I'm not saying it again if that's what you're trying to get me to do."

"It's burned into my memory, kid. I don't need you to," Trent replied. Then his face turned serious. "But that's not the only thing I'm worried about. Don't stress yourself out too much, okay?"

"I promise to stay off my foot as much as possible. Pinky swear." I winced upon hearing my own words.

Trent looked at me, his pierced eyebrow arched. "Pinky swear?"

"Sorry, old habit." I glanced out the driver side window to find Shane pushing the buttons on his cellphone, most likely sending a text.

"Is Jackson still inside?" I inquired nervously, turning back to Trent.

"Yeah, I think he and Tristan are in the basement playing pool."

I nodded in understanding.

"Want me to tell him you said good-bye?"

"Only if they ask," I said quietly.

"If you say so," Trent replied. "But, when I said to take it easy, I meant emotionally."

My brows knit together in confusion. I was about to ask what he meant when the door behind me finally opened and Shane slipped in.

"Sorry, I had to answer a text from the parents. Ready to go?"

I nodded affirmatively.

"Sorry again about not getting the timing right," I apologized to Trent.

He smiled. "No worries. Pops found it amusing anyway. I'll stop by later tonight to see how you're doing, okay? And remember what I said."

"Sure thing."

Trent then thanked Shane for his help and taking me home before closing the door and giving it a light thump. As Shane reversed, preparing to pull away from the curb, Trent held is hand up in goodbye. I waved back but didn't realize until it was too late that he might not have seen the gesture with the tinted windows and the dark blanket of night. I internally groaned, wishing my brain would turn back on for the night.

"Rock, pop, or rap?"

"Hmm?" I tilted my head to the side, puzzled.

"Which radio station do you want to listen to?"

"Oh." I weighed the options in my mind before answering. "Rock. I'm not really on good terms with pop right now."

"Good terms?"

I shrugged. "You know, sometimes pop has its great moments, and sometimes it has its not so great moments. Now would be one of the latter—too many screechy things in the background."

Shane chuckled. "Rock it is," he replied hitting the seek button on the radio. Once he found the right frequency, he returned his hand to the steering wheel. I hummed absently to the song, my eyelids drifting shut. Song after song, my humming joined the singers' lyrics until the DJ cut to a commercial about a local car dealership. Shane clicked the radio off.

"Actually, there was something I wanted to talk to you about."

"Go for it."

He paused for a few seconds, slowing the car to take a right turn, before continuing. "It's, well… It's no secret that I like you, Adelia." He glanced over, trying to gage my reaction, but my face was blank as I stared at the road ahead. It was dim except for the strip lit up by the car's headlights. I could only hope this conversation wasn't going where I thought it was.

"I know you told Bob we were just friends." I sucked my breath in at his words. Hope was certainly dwindling. "But I was thinking. I'd like us to be more if you catch my drift."

I blanched. Oh, I caught his drift, all too well. Hope had completely self-imploded. Chewing nervously on the inside of my cheek, I turned my head to face him. His eyes were focused on the road, only occasionally sneaking peaks at me.

Shane was a nice guy. Heck, he was a great guy, who'd already helped me out numerous times despite knowing me for only a few weeks, but I couldn't.

I had school and work to worry about, and… Heck, who was I kidding?

I was just scared. Plain and simple. Scared out of my mind.

It was only last summer that I started piecing my life back together again. For the first time in years, I had a friend—a real one who I trusted with my entire being, but in just a few weeks, I felt like I was heading back to square one. I didn't want that. I didn't want to run away from people anymore, but a real relationship?

I seriously doubted I could handle one.

"It's okay," Shane's voice cut through my thoughts, drawing me back to reality. "I just felt like I had to say something. You don't need to respond—you know what? Just forget I mentioned anything."

His fingers clicked the radio back on, sending a guitar rift blasting through the small enclosed space. The car suddenly felt so suffocating. I wanted nothing more than to lower the window and let fresh air flow in, but I didn't dare ask which button on the door I needed to push to do so.

We passed the rest of the drive with the same tenseness. The radio blared, fighting to liven the atmosphere, but it didn't work. Not even the DJ's witty late night jokes managed a dent.

Shane twisted his key from the ignition, effectively silencing the DJ. It wasn't until he stepped out of the car and I peered out the window that I realized we were parked right in front of the entrance to my apartment building.

I barely had time to pull on the door handle before Shane appeared on the other side and carefully helped me. With his arm tucked around my back and my right arm sliding along the stair railing, I hobbled up the staircase. I wished the elevator had been closer to the main entrance. Unfortunately it was located down the hallway and it would have most likely taken us longer to make our way down the hall and back than to climb one flight of stairs. It wasn't until I slipped my key into the lock of my front door that Shane finally spoke again.

"I'm not mad, you know. Just thinking."

"I'm sorry," I whispered, not knowing what else to say.

He shook his head slowly. "You've got nothing to be sorry about. I'm sorry for pressuring you."

With a twist of the key, the lock clicked open. "I'll be okay from here," I said. "Thank you." I reached over to embrace him.

He returned the hug with a firm grip, his arms wrapping tightly around my waist, but there was still gentleness to his touch. My eyes started to water. I held back a sniffle and instead whispered another apology.

"Stop saying that," Shane said softly as he pulled away. His lips brushed against my forehead so lightly that I almost missed the act completely.


The corner of his mouth tilted up at my automatic reply, but as amused as he was by apology for an apology, the laughter never reached his hazel eyes.

"Good night, Adelia."

"Good night, Shane," I replied as he slowly took a couple steps backwards, his eyes never leaving mine. Then he pivoted on his heels and walked back down the hall, a disappointed swagger in his step. He didn't look back again, not even when he turned to go down the staircase.

Sighing, I shoved the door open and stepped inside my apartment. Pushing myself off the walls to stay upright and on course, I hopped my way to the bedroom where I dropped unceremoniously onto my bed. I shut my eyes, trying to block out all thoughts, but something was digging into my hip.

Reaching into the pocket of my jeans, I slid my cellphone out. The small bars on the upper left corner flashed, alternating between red and blue. Flipping the contraption open, I scrolled to the message inbox and opened the newest text without even looking at who send it. I read it with droopy eyes.

I hope your ankle feels better soon. Sorry again. Jackson.

With a groan, I snapped the phone shut and tossed it away. My last thought before succumbing to sleep was how "sorry" was such a pitiful word.

I didn't even bother to crawl under the covers.

Feedback is a wonderful thing.