Please read the author's note at the end of the story.

The Thin Line Between Love and Hate

Taliana Avilla knew from the moment that Sebastian Phillips dropped his beloved vanilla ice cream cone on her lap back in preschool that she loved him. Of course, she never told him that. She just screamed when the cold creamy substance touched her skin, then promptly picked it up and thrust it in his face. He had cried and she had screamed that he was a poop head.

In kindergarten he had stolen her favorite Barbie doll and cut all its hair off. She retaliated by cutting his hair during naptime. Quite a cunning operation for a five year old.

By first grade it was full out war. He had pushed her off the monkey bars, causing her to fall and scrape both of her knees. The next day she 'accidentally' slammed his forehead into the flagpole. He even got a concussion.

Second grade was the year of rumors and secrets. He had spread a particularly vicious one about how she had a crush on one of the boys in their class and liked to kiss him every chance she got. She got him back by telling everyone he wet his pants when he was nervous. She even proved it by pouring a glass of lemonade on his crotch when no one was looking.

But it was then that Taliana began to question her love for him. Was it really love she felt? Or was it just an overwhelming amount of hate that felt like love? Whatever it was, it was definitely too hard for a seven year old to figure out.

Third grade was more of the same. Whispering, spreading disgusting rumors only eight year olds could think of, and laughing at the other's misfortune whenever the opportunity arose.

By fourth grade they had reverted back to their ways of violence. In a brief attempt to be civilized, they had decided to play a game of Monopoly together during free time. She had won, of course, and he hadn't taken it very well, a fact that was proven by his brief bout of anger. He had ended up throwing the board as well as his game piece at her head, and to this day she still had a slight scar near her hairline where that damn metal dog had cut her. She wasted no time getting him back that time though. The next day during a game of Twister she kicked him in a particularly sensitive place, causing him to cry harder than she'd ever thought possible.

Fifth grade wasn't too different, save for the fact that the violent acts were increasing. By the end of that year Taliana had lost track of how many times he'd pushed her down on the blacktop, tripped her, or closed a door on her fingers. She hadn't been much of an angel either with all the pencil stabbing, food throwing, and book slapping, but she considered her moves to be a bit more honorable.

As usual, the much needed break from each other came during the summer, but when the start of sixth grade rolled around, it was wartime once again. And it was bound to be the battle to end them all.

"Come on, Stick Girl! You're up!"

Taliana threw a look of annoyance to the makeshift umpire behind home plate as she strode towards the batters box. Stick Girl? Did no one have any originality anymore? They'd been calling her that same stupid nickname ever since third grade, which had been over three years ago. Apparently sixth graders still had the same terrible ability as eight year olds to come up with nicknames.

"Don't call me that," she mumbled, mostly to herself.

Taliana could understand why they called her Stick Girl; it was really the only way to describe her appearance. Her entire ten year old body was lithe and lanky, causing her to look like she truly was a twig. Awkwardness just went hand in hand with it as well, granting her with the inability to be graceful like the other little girls at her swanky private school of Georgetown Trinity. She didn't know what she would do if she was bound to look like that for the rest of her life.

"Hurry up! Can't those giraffe legs of yours carry you any faster?"

This time a frown came to her lips. She was getting sick of all these stupid names everyone kept calling her. And okay, maybe it wasn't everyone, just one particular boy...

"Shut up, Sebastian," she snapped, slightly louder this time.

The umpire, or better known as Sebastian Phillips, rolled his eyes, staying true to his melodramatic demeanor. "Just hurry up. You're dragging out our game. I don't see why we even let you play."

Taliana pressed her lips together to avoid the heated argument that was bound to happen and approached the plate a moment later. After picking up the bat that was lying by her feet, she swung it around for a moment to get a feel for it, then raised her elbows and pulled her hands back until she could practically brush her ear with her knuckles. This was the only time she felt semi-comfortable. The weight of a bat in her hands made her feel almost invincible, even if she wasn't at any other time. Softball was her sport and she was here to own it, just like she had been ever since she started playing in first grade.

The only problem now was that she wasn't surrounded by her normal female teammates. Instead there were the faces of boys who had been playing baseball for just as long as she had been playing softball, or even longer. Whenever the boys were playing, the other girls that were on her team stayed away; the games during recess were just a little too brutal for them. Most people walked away with more cuts and bruises than they would in a normal, non-recess game.

But Taliana wasn't like them. She wasn't afraid of a little blood and sore blue patches like all the other prissy little girls were. She was a tomboy through and through, something she very much enjoyed proving when it came to sports.

She watched as the pitcher smirked, silently taunting her like he always did whenever he was up on the mound. She tried not to let it get to her, but it always did for some reason; he was just intimidating for an eleven year old. Within an instant the ball was flying in her direction, looking like it was going to hit her. Instinctively, she jumped back, the large neon green ball narrowly missing her ribs.

"Strike one!"

A look of pure confusion came to her face as she whipped her head around to look at the umpire, who was standing behind the catcher. Just like the pitcher, Sebastian had a matching smirk on his lips.

"What?" she asked incredulously, letting her bat drop to her side. "That wasn't a strike! It almost hit me!"

"But it didn't," he replied, making it seem like the most obvious thing in the world. "And it's not like Michael did it on purpose." He moved his gaze from the outraged girl in front of him to the grinning pitcher out on the mound. "Right, Michael?"

"Right," he replied innocently, his smug grin growing by the second. "I'd never try to hurt little Stick Girl."

"But if it almost hit me that means it wasn't even in the strike zone!" she cried out.

Sebastian only shrugged as he turned his snide gaze back on her. "I'm the umpire here and what I say goes. Deal with it."

Taliana scoffed and shook her head in disgust, looking back to the ground. "Whatever," she grumbled. "Let's just get on with the game."

The catcher gave her a sympathetic glance as he tossed the ball back to Michael and returned to squatting behind home plate. With a soft sigh, Taliana brought her bat up again and stared narrow eyed at the pitcher, daring him to do the same thing again. Michael cocked an eyebrow slightly before he released the ball, letting it travel in its almost perfect path. Keyword: almost.

Taliana couldn't help but watch with satisfaction as the pitch went wide and missed the plate by a few inches.

"Strike two!"

Shock and anger were the first two emotions to hit her as she spun around to face the umpire again. "What?" she screeched. "Are youkidding me? It totally wasn't in the strike zone!"

Sebastian just stared at her, his expression bored yet haughty. "What I say goes, Stick Girl." He looked down at the boy still crouching with the softball in his hand. "Give the ball back to the pitcher, Marcus. This game is taking too long."

The catcher let out a soft sigh and threw the ball back to Michael, who was once again grinning. Taliana was overwhelmed with the feeling of wanting to slap both Michael and Sebastian, but she somehow refrained from doing so. Hitting people was frowned upon, something she had learned back in second grade after repeatedly whacking Sebastian upside the head with a coloring book. She had been put in time out for a good twenty minutes because of that one.

Taliana turned her attention back to Michael, glaring this time, and waited for the next horrible pitch to come. Her grip on the bat was tighter than it should have been due to the annoyance pulsing through her body, and her stance was off as well. She would have been surprised if she could even swing the stupid bat. But when the time came to swing, there wasn't any need. The pitch had come in way over her head.

A proud grin came to her lips as she dropped the bat to her side and turned to face Sebastian, who wasn't looking too pleased about it.

"Don't you even dare think about calling that a strike."

The boy's dark blue eyes narrowed and Taliana immediately knew she shouldn't have opened her mouth.

"Strike three," he drawled, his sneer turning into a satisfied smirk. "You're out."

In an instant her jaw had dropped and she found herself gaping at him in shock. "No freaking way! That wasn't even close to being a strike! It was above my head, you idiot!"

Vexation washed over Sebastian's face as he stepped closer to her, ready to debate. "No, it wasn't. Anybody can vouch for me on that one."

Taliana's frown only deepened as she placed her hands on her narrow hips. "I'd like to see that happen!"

"Fine," he hissed. He then lifted his gaze to the first baseman, who just happened to be staring off into space with his mouth hanging open. No one would have been surprised if a fly or two had flown in there. "Jacob!"

The boy snapped to attention, his big brown eyes wide with surprise. "Yeah?"

"You saw that pitch, right?"

Jacob nodded, his head bouncing up and down like a bobble head doll. "Uh huh."

"What do you think it was then? Ball or a strike?"

The boy paused, his mouth opening once again as he thought, which looked like it was a difficult task for him. "Uh... a strike?"

A grin immediately sprang to Sebastian's lips as he glanced back to Taliana, her ice blue eyes looking like they were about to pop out of her head in shock.

"Told you," he gloated, looking down his nose at the girl in the batters box. "I'm sure ieveryone/i else out there would agree with that." He once again turned his attention to the field, raising his voice some so they could all hear. "Right guys?"

A collective murmur of 'yes' could be heard from all sides. It didn't come as that much of a surprise to Taliana this time. Not very many people dared go against Sebastian Phillips, especially now that a true social hierarchy was being developed. Anyone who wanted to either go unnoticed or work their way up the ladder didn't want to do anything that could possibly upset their new leader. It was practically a social death wish.

With an angry huff, Taliana threw her hands up. "You're so stupid!"

A bark of laughter came from Sebastian and he took a step closer to the stick thin girl in front of him. "Say whatever you want, Talia. It's not going to change the fact that you suck at softball."

"I do not!" she cried. All she knew for now was that if he kept this up, she was either going to burst out in tears or go up in flames. She was leaning more towards the tears. "Stop being mean to me!"

The grin on Seb's face only grew with every word that came out of the girl's mouth. He couldn't resist teasing her.

"Go home and cry to your mommy about it," he taunted, moving around Marcus so that he and Taliana were only a foot away from each other now. "Oh, that's right. Your mom doesn't even live around here anymore. Guess she didn't like you enough to stay. Poor, poor little Stick Girl. Not even your whore of a mommy loves you!"

In an instant Taliana was seeing red. Only very few people knew that her mother had recently moved away from Washington, D.C. to California, the reasons for her sudden disappearance unknown to most, but apparently Sebastian was one of the people who knew. How he had even found out about it, Taliana didn't know. But leave it up to Sebastian to find out the latest gossip in the neighborhood.

It was a very touchy subject, seeing as Taliana and her mother had been quite close up until the day she moved away, leaving her only daughter to live with her father, step-mother, and two half sisters. To put it simply, Talia wasn't too happy about it.

Rage bubbled in the stomach of the tiny girl which lead up to the outburst of, "Don't talk about my mom like that!" And then her hands were on his shoulders, shoving him back.

The sounds of stunned gasps came from the nearby bleachers where the other girls had come to watch the game, their eyes wide in astonishment. Though she and Sebastian had been fighting since the first day of preschool, no one ever seemed to get used to their tiffs.

But Talia wasn't paying attention to them. She was too busy keeping her fury filled eyes locked on Sebastian. The snarl on his face probably would have scared a pit bull, but the girl in front of him didn't back down. A mighty bad decision on her part.

Sebastian's hands shot out faster than Taliana would have ever thought possible, connecting with her boney shoulders and pushing her backwards with such a force that she stumbled and almost fell. She somehow managed to keep footing and shoved him back once again, keeping the heated argument going.

"Go find someone else to be mean to, Phillips. I'm so sick of you... you stinking pile of dog shit!"

The gasps from the on looking students were louder this time. For a bunch of sixth graders, that insult was one of the worst any of them had ever heard so far in their short lives. Not to mention just about everyone knew how Sebastian was going to react to it. Even at eleven years old, it was known that he had a bit of an anger management problem. Taliana was the only person he had ever fought with physically, but he had been known to emotionally torture a few of his classmates that he had also taken a dislike to. Most of the other kids were aware of what he did and usually went out of their way to avoid any negative altercations with him. Taliana, of course, practically lived for them.

"What did you call me?" he asked quietly, looking more than just a little pissed off.

"You heard me," Taliana answered boldly, drawing herself up to her full height. A wave of confidence rushed through her, causing a slight smirk to come to her lips as she stared unflinchingly at the boy. "What are you gonna do about it?"

The moment the words passed from her lips she regretted it. Less than half a second later, fireworks exploded in her head when Sebastian's fist connected with her cheekbone, sending her crashing to the ground.

A stunned silence immediately fell around the pair, the only sounds that could be heard were those of the shouts of the recess monitors and teachers who were running across the field to break up the fight.

If Taliana had been like the other girls she went to school with, she would have continued to sit on the ground and probably would have cried her little heart out. But of course, she wasn't anything like them. That's why when she felt the baseball bat laying on the ground under her fingertips, she knew exactly what she had to do. Without even rising to her feet, she closed her eyes, lifted the bat, and swung with all her might.

The sound of bone crunching and a loud scream alerted her that she had come into contact with something. Cracking one eye open, she saw Sebastian curled up in the fetal position on the ground, cradling his obviously broken arm while tears streamed down his face. As she opened the other eye and took in the entire sight, a smile began tugging on her lips. Though it definitely wasn't the first time she had ever seen Sebastian Phillips cry, this was hands down the most satisfying.

Her joy didn't last long, though. A few seconds after she had taken her lucky swing, the teachers came rushing over, most of them going over to the big baby who was bawling his eyes out as he continued to lay on the ground. As the moments passed, more and more adults came to the scene, and one of them just happened to be the principal. The bloated man grabbed Taliana by the arm and pulled her to her feet.

"Explain yourself, Miss Avilla!" he thundered, his grip tight on her tiny wrist.

Her blue eyes widened as she looked up at the fat, aging man, his face turning red and beginning to lean towards purple.

"You might want to calm down, Mr. Hawthorne," she said softly, her voice once again sounding like it belonged to a sweet little girl. "You're starting to turn purple."

If it was even possible, the fat man began to turn even more purple. Had it not been absolutely terrifying, it probably would have been funny.

"That's it! You're coming with me and I'm calling your parents. This is your last day at my school!"

He then began dragging her off the field and back towards the main building. As she stumbled along trying to keep up with his long strides, she glanced back over her shoulder to catch one last look at the damage she had caused.

The sight brought a grin to her lips once more and she knew the memory would probably do so for years to come. By now Sebastian had managed to sit up, but was still cradling his arm and sobbing. Hawthorne had now pulled her though the door into the school, but before the door closed behind her she once again murmured something that no one else but herself could hear.

"Who sucks at softball now?"