The Pest

PART I

- I -

- Dominick, do you love me? - she asked in a small voice.

- Of course I love you, - I said sincerely and gently pulled her shirt off. - Why else would I be here if I wouldn't love you?

- Darla said that you are… - she hesitated. - She said not to trust you…

- Darla is just jealous, - I murmured, thinking that Darla's bitching was getting worse lately. - She is jealous of you, Carrie…

- She said that you slept with her and then dumped her like the next morning…

- She is making stuff up, - I said thinking that I didn't dump Darla the next morning. I dumped her that very night. - Carrie, I don't sleep around, okay? Call me old fashioned but I don't believe in sex without love… The way I feel about you… - I sighed deeply. - Carrie, I've never felt this way before… - which I guess was true to the point. She was one of the "good" girls and I didn't really have a lot of those. Virtue is so hard to find nowadays…

- Dominick… - she whispered and timidly stroked my chest. - I… This… - she started to blush. - I've never done this before…

- Neither did I, - I said sincerely and she gave me a small happy sigh. - I never found the right person… Until now, - I added in a very soft voice and kissed her slowly.

She shivered underneath me and wrapped her arms around my neck.

- Dominick, I love you… - she whispered.

- I love you too, Carrie, - I said with feeling and pulled her skirt off.

Two or so hours later I was ready to kill for a cigarette. Carrie was snoring softly, her head on my chest. I stirred carefully and she didn't even move. I grinned and carefully moved her away from me. I fumbled in the dark, looking for my clothes and suddenly she was awake.

- Dominick?… - she called and I cringed.

- Yes, love, - I answered softly.

- What are you doing?

"Getting my clothes on and getting the hell out of here"

- I need a glass of water. I'll be right back, okay?

- Okay…

I walked out of the bedroom and pulled my jeans on. I didn't even bother buttoning up my shirt, it was so late and dark outside that it didn't even matter. I was jumping on one foot, putting my sock on when a door to the second bedroom opened and Tony's head popped out.

- You leaving? - he whispered and I rolled my eyes.

- No, - I said. - I am just getting dressed so she can take my pants off again… Hell yeah I am leaving!…

- Usually you just kick them out, - Tony grinned and I shrugged.

- Yeah, well… Do you really want her to start crying in the middle of the night? - I nodded towards the bedroom that I just left.

- Was she really a virgin? - he looked really curious.

- She was, - I said solemnly. - I fixed it…

Tony shook with silent laughter.

- Okay, man, - he whispered finally. - See you in the morning…

- Right, - I muttered. - Don't forget my money…

He grimaced and I went away.

I got to my car and swore when I realized that I was out of smokes. I quickly checked my pockets and was relieved when I found ten bucks. Five minutes later I was pulling into a parking lot of 7-11. I didn't bother locking my car since I figured if someone steals that piece of shit, that'll mean they need it more than I do. I walked into the store and grabbed a bottle of Coke from the shelve.

- This and a pack of Parliaments, - I threw my ten on the counter without looking up. I knew everyone who worked here and they knew me.

- I need to see your ID, - I've heard and I couldn't believe it.

I looked up.

- I need to see your ID, - she repeated patiently.

- Who the hell are you? - I squinted my eyes at her.

- Excuse me? - she looked at me as if I just asked her to give me a blowjob.

- Who are you? - I said again. - Where is Marcus?

- He is on his break, - she said with dignity. - And I am new.

- Okay… Danica… - I kept my eyes on her name tag longer than she was comfortable with. - Ring me up, okay?

- If you are buying cigarettes, I have to check your ID, - she said stubbornly.

- Are you kidding me? - I demanded and she gave me a very nasty smile and pointed towards the sign that said "You Have to be 18 to Purchase Tobacco"

I rolled my eyes.

- Jesus Christ… I'll just wait for Marcus.

- So he can illegally sell you cigarettes? - she asked with so much poison in her voice that I had a sudden desire to smack her upside the head.

- How old are you? - I asked her and she winced.

- I am seventeen, why?

- No reason, - I shrugged.

The door of the store opened and to my greatest relief I saw Marcus.

- Dominick, - he grinned at me and gave me high five. - What's up, my man?

- Nada, - I high-fived him back. - Marcus, ring me up, will ya?

He frowned.

- Why didn't you ring him up, Danica? - he looked at the girl whose eyes became angry slits.

- Because he won't show me his ID! - she said evenly.

- That's Dominick right here, - Marcus said patiently. - He doesn't need no ID…

- You can ring him up then, - she snapped and turned away.

Marcus rolled his eyes and walked behind the counter. He rang me up quickly and I shoved my change into my jeans pocket.

- Fun night, huh? - Marcus asked me slyly, eyeing my unbuttoned shirt.

- You know me, - I laughed. - Hey Marcus… - I didn't even lower my voice. - When is she going to work here? What days? - and I nodded at Danica and her shoulders immediately became tense.

Marcus scratched his head.

- She is in training right now… - he said. - So all week this week… And then I don't know.

- Great, - I winced. - I have to come back here and buy a hundred cartons then just so I don't deal with her again…

Marcus laughed.

- She's cool, man…

- Uh huh, - I said and Danica slammed the drawer of the second register.

I grinned at that and waved to Marcus.

- Later, D, - he waved back.

I was driving home and didn't even get mad that my radio wasn't working again. I laughed softly when I remembered the new girl's reaction to my questions. I parked next to my driveway and got out of the car. I was rummaging through my pockets, trying to find the keys when the front door opened.

- Do you know what time it is? - my mother demanded.

- Yes, - I said and walked inside. - It's a little after three AM. Why, your clock is broken or something?

- Don't smart mouth me, Dominick! - she said dangerously and I shrugged and walked to the kitchen.

I was looking inside the fridge when she appeared in the doorway.

- Why is your shirt unbuttoned? - she asked shortly.

- Because I didn't want to button it when I put it on, - I said and pulled a carton of orange juice and a pack of bologna out of the fridge.

- And why did you take it off in the first place?

- Because I don't like to have my shirt on when I am having sex, - I said fixing myself a sandwich.

If looks could kill, I'd be twitching on the floor right now.

- Dominick… - she said evenly. - Until you live under my roof…

- The only reason I still live under your roof, - I interrupted her. - Is because you gave me an ultimatum. Don't worry, I'll be gone in August.

- I didn't give you an ultimatum! - she said shrilly. - I gave you a choice! If you want to move out, you can do it right now!

- Right, - I grinned and bit into my sandwich. - I can walk out right now with this shirt on but that's about it…

- That was your choice, - she shrugged.

- Gee, I guess I am dumb that I don't want to live under a bridge and that I want to keep all my stuff, - I said sarcastically. - Yeah, that's my choice. I will move out on August fourteenth.

- Until then do me a favor and show up at a decent hour! - she snapped.

- You don't have to wait for me, you know, - I shrugged and wolfed down the rest of my sandwich. - Just go to sleep… It's not like you miss me when I am gone… - I opened the carton of orange juice and drank some.

- Dammit, Dominick! - she exclaimed. - Not out of the carton!

I shoved the juice back into the fridge and started to walk towards the stairs.

- Don was asking about where the hell you are so late, - she said tightly.

- Tell Don that it's none of his business, - I said without stopping.

- Do not say that! - she said sharply. - Don is a good man and you need to show some respect!..

- Yeah, - I muttered. - I'll show him something, all right…

- What did you say?! - her voice flew up an octave and I grimaced.

- I said that I am tired and I am going to bed, - I said loudly. - I gotta go to school in the morning!

- Dominick!

But I tuned her out and went to my room. I locked the door and threw my car keys on the desk. I winced when I realized that I had to get up in less than three hours. I kicked my shoes off and pulled off my shirt. I was thinking that I have to tell Darla to shut the hell up finally when I fell asleep.

- II -

I was dozing off in my seat when the door opened and Jackson's voice boomed loudly:

- Attention, please!

I grimaced and half opened my eyes.

- People, you have a new person in your class this year, - Jackson was saying and once again I wondered how such a tiny man could have such loud voice. - She moved here recently from Michigan and she will be graduating with you this May so be nice to her! - he turned his head and beckoned to someone.

I yawned. A newcomer, big deal… Sometimes I wondered if Jackson had nothing better to do than walk around the school all day and pester everyone with his endless demands and empty threats as if the being the principal made him everybody's father. I thought of Don and cringed. Or stepfather for that matter.

- This is Danica Moore, - Jackson said and my eyes immediately opened.

I didn't believe it. It was that little annoying ID-pestering girl from 7-11. She stood next to Jackson, her back straight, tiny smile on her lips, her dark hair falling down almost all the way to her waist. I hated her immediately. She had that snotty look on her face that was saying: "I am better than all of you together" Jackson glanced across the classroom and said:

- Go sit over there, - and to my horror he nodded towards my desk. - Next to Dominick.

Great! Now she'll be sitting next to me! I started wondering if it was my punishment from God. Danica looked at me and her smile was gone immediately as if someone just wiped it off. She pressed her lips tightly and walked over to my desk.

- Okay, people, - Jackson nodded with satisfaction as if he just fulfilled his life long dream. - Have a good day! - and he walked out.

I cringed when Danica put her backpack on the desk and sat down. I moved my chair as far away from her as possible. She did the same. The entire time while Clarkson was babbling something about Middle East and poking his pointer into the map of the world I was doodling on the piece of paper. I sketched Danica's face and drew a large axe in the middle of her head. It looked pretty good and I grinned. Finally the bell rang and I shoved my piece of paper in my pocket.

- Dominick… - someone said softly and I turned my head.

It was Carrie and her lips were quivering. Great! Here comes the scene…

- I need to talk to you, - she said.

- Can't right now, - I said lightly and shoved my book in my backpack. - Busy. I'll call you, okay?

- You never came back… - she said in a barely audible voice and I sighed with regret.

- Yeah, - I said. - Something came up, I had to go home.

- Why didn't you tell me? - she whispered.

Jesus Christ with the baseball bat! Didn't she hear me say that I was busy?

- It was urgent, - I said. - I gotta go, Carrie. I'll call you, okay?

- Dominick…

- Later, Carrie, - I interrupted her and Danica threw a killer look at me.

I shrugged it off and walked away. I was half-way down the hallway when I saw Darla. Suddenly I had a very strong desire to strangle her.

- Hey Darla! - I yelled and she looked at me.

- What do you want? - she asked when I got closer to her.

- We need to talk, - I said evenly and dragged her aside.

- About what? - she asked and her eyes became tense.

- About you running your mouth, - I said without letting go of her elbow. - Darla, you really need to shut up!

- Why? - she asked defensively. - So I don't ruin your game? I think that I need to warn the other girls about what a pig you are!

- Darla, - I said in a low voice. - If you won't knock it off…

- You'll what? - she demanded. - Beat me up? - and she smirked.

- No, - I said patiently. - But I do have some interesting pictures of you that I just could post on the internet… - I was bluffing. I deleted those pictures the minute I told her to get out of Tony's apartment and let me sleep.

Her face turned white.

- You wouldn't dare! - she hissed.

- Oh but I will! - I promised her. - Consider it your one and only warning, Darla… The next time someone tells me that you've been running your mouth, those pictures go onto my MySpace page.

She narrowed her brown eyes that a couple of months ago I found pretty.

- I hate you! - she said and I shrugged.

- Get in line, - I said and let go of her elbow.

I was feeling pretty good until I walked into the chemistry lab and saw Danica sitting next to my chair. I gritted my teeth. I will have to ask someone to switch places with me for the next class. I couldn't stand being around that snotty skinny pest. I walked up to my desk and she moved her chair forward to let me squeeze by her. I deliberately let my backpack to smack her on the head and she all but hissed at me.

- Sorry, - I said lightly and sat down.

She didn't even look at me. I was really thankful to Tussle when he didn't make us partner up today. I probably would burn her hands with something if I had to be her partner. After the chemistry lab I decided to skip lunch and head straight to the library since I had to do some heavy reading for my presentation in history class tomorrow. I walked into the library and smiled at Lindsey who immediately smiled back.

- Hey Dominick! - she said, her eyelashes batting. - How are you?

- I am great, Lindsey, thanks! How about you? - I smiled at her from underneath my bangs which I knew was irresistible.

She immediately leaned forward on her counter.

- I am good, - she said and sighed. - Gonna be all alone this Saturday though…

- Oh yeah? Why is that? - I couldn't help but notice that she didn't wear a bra.

- Oh, - she sighed again and her breasts moved slowly. - Gary has to go visit his uncle this weekend… - she looked at me and leaned forward more. - He is leaving on Friday night… - she said lowly.

- Well, I guess I could keep you company then, - I said and my eyes lingered on her full lips.

- Would you? - she smiled. - That would be great! I hate being alone… We could… Play cards or something…

Cards, right. Unless it was strip poker Lindsey wouldn't even touch a deck of cards.

- Cards sound awesome, - I grinned.

- See you Saturday then? - she asked and I nodded.

- Yeah, - I said.

I liked Lindsey. She had a boyfriend, a guy named Gary who seemed like an oblivious loser. It seemed like Lindsey cheated on him with at least half of the town with Gary none the wiser. I didn't care about the fact that some girls were cheating on their boyfriends with me. I mean, I didn't make them drunk or anything. I didn't believe in powers of alcohol. I was always about the free will. Lindsey had plenty of that. The best thing about Lindsey was that she never pestered me about anything. She didn't ask me to spend the night, she didn't expect me to call her the next day, and she didn't care if I slept with the entire women's choir.

- Hey, Linds, - I pulled out a piece of paper. - I need this book on Predynastic Egypt… Could you look it up?

- Sure, - she said lightly and took the paper.

She typed the title into her computer and bit her lower lip thoughtfully.

- We had one, - she said finally. - But it was checked out like ten minutes ago…

- Are you serious?!

- Yeah, - she nodded.

- God! - I ruffled my hair. - Can you tell me who has it? Maybe I could borrow it for a couple of hours…

- Someone named Danica Moore, - Lindsey said and I just stared at her.

Are you kidding me? The pest got the only book in the entire library that I needed? I almost growled.

- Thanks, Linds, - I said. - See you Saturday.

- Bye, Dominick, - she called when I was walking away fuming.

I walked into the cafeteria and immediately saw her. There she was, sitting at her table alone, her face buried in the book that I needed. I locked my teeth tight and walked to her table.

- Hey, - I said gloomily and she looked up.

I noticed that her eyes were green.

- Could I borrow that book for a couple of hours? - I said uncomfortably. - I have a presentation tomorrow and the library only had one copy…

She silently shut the book and handed it to me. I blinked. I expected her to torture me for at least fifteen minutes, her being a pest and all. I took the book.

- Thanks…

She shrugged indifferently.

- I… umm… When do you need it back?

- Whenever, - she muttered. - You can give it to me after your presentation, - and she pulled her headphones on.

I stood there feeling like an idiot. Finally I shrugged and walked away. I got the book, I was happy.

- III -

My presentation went really well since I could keep the book and spend almost the entire night reading it. I always believed in procrastination, it worked wonders for me. If I knew that I had less than twenty four hours to prepare for something important, I had this weird burning feeling in my chest that was pushing me better than anything else. Motivation is everything, I guess.

I walked up to Danica after the class and handed her the book.

- Thanks again, - I said and she shrugged silently. - Sorry I hit you on the head with my backpack, - I added and this time she looked at me.

- Yeah, - she said softly. - Sure.

She took the book and walked away. My mood was good and I decided to skip the rest of the day. I was almost by the front door when I've heard Carrie's voice calling my name.

- Damn, - I said softly and turned my head.

- Dominick, - she said, her eyes dark with hiding tears. - What's wrong? Did I do something? You won't even talk to me…

Suddenly I remembered why I tried to avoid Goody-Two-Shoes type. The minute they sleep with you, they expect a proposal. I sighed.

- Carrie, - I said patiently. - I am sorry. I've been really busy lately. I had this presentation today, and there is another project looming on the horizon…

- Do you want to… - she hesitated. - Do you want to hang out this Saturday?

I almost winced. To blow a perfect Saturday with Lindsey just so I can "hang out" with Carrie? Hell, no!

- Sorry, Carrie, - I shook my head. - I can't.

She looked at me like I just said I was the one who killed Bambi's mother.

- Okay, - she said finally. - I get it. I won't bother you again, - and she walked away slowly, obviously waiting for me to go after her.

I realized that I was acting like a total dick and I didn't care. I walked outside without even looking at her.

I sat on the bench in the park, lit a cigarette and closed my eyes. I should've left Carrie alone, I thought. I knew that she was a little nutty and very gullible. I wouldn't even talk to her that one day if Tony wouldn't dare me. I remembered him saying: "Betcha a hundred bucks that you won't be able to get her into bed!" I looked at him like he was insane. "You are on", - I said and we shook hands. It took me less than a week to get into Carrie's pants and Tony gave me my hundred bucks nice and promptly. It felt fine two days ago but now I was a little worried that Carrie will start following me everywhere. Then I remembered the hurt look in her eyes and quiet pride in her voice when she said she won't bother me again, and I relaxed a little. She just might leave me alone, I thought.

I couldn't believe how easy it was to get to her once I started babbling about love and other nonsense. The minute I said "I love you" her eyes literally glazed over. It was like I pushed a magic button that turned her into my slave. I snorted without opening my eyes. Love… I couldn't understand how someone could believe in that nonsense. I mean, the girls believe in it, that's just fine with me. Makes the game easier. But when a guy starts babbling about the greatest love of his life, I just feel like I am about to start retching. I never believed in love. Ever since I walked in on my aunt Sylvia blowing my Dad.

I think I was eight. I stood in the door watching aunt Sylvia's blond head pop up and down between my Dad's legs and I watched him shuddering with pleasure. They never saw me. They had no idea that I knew. They still don't. My mother decided to file for divorce after she found out that he was cheating on her with his secretary. But I remember the very first thought that popped into my head after I backed out of Dad's office. "Love and sex are two different things. Sex is real, love is not" I mean, if love was real, then my Dad wouldn't hump everything that didn't have a dick and had two legs. If love was real there would be no way for me to screw Lindsey's brains out every time Gary went out of town. If love was real, maybe I could understand why my mother married Don.

But almost all the girls believed in it and those three magic words worked the same way on girl's legs as the word Sesame worked on Aladdin's cave of ancient treasures. They opened them. I finished my cigarette and finally opened my eyes. The weather was charming. I enjoyed feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin. I decided to walk for a bit when I saw Vicky Miller. I picked up my pace. Vicky was a junior and she changed a lot since the last time I saw her which was right before summer break. It was like she suddenly turned into a model. I couldn't help but think of the Ugly Duckling.

- Hey, Vicky, - I said when I caught up with her.

- Oh hey, Dominick, - she smiled and I was wondering what her mouth tasted like.

- Skipping school, huh? - I looked at her from underneath my bangs.

- You are the one to talk, - she gave me a slow smile.

I knew that I was a good looking guy. I am not bragging or anything, I am just stating the facts. I look almost exactly like my Dad and he was the Screw King of his time. I think he still is. I knew that the girls just loved my dirty blond hair and dark blue eyes. I was pretty tall and thankfully not skinny. My body was just lean enough and not too muscular. I knew that my smile could work wonders and I used it without any pangs of conscience. I mean, if I have it, why waste it, right?

Vicky threw a quick glance at me and said:

- Do you wanna get a coffee or something?

Does the fish live in water?

- Absolutely, - I murmured. - Here, let me help you with that… - and I took her bag from her shoulder.

- Thanks, - she giggled and I smiled at her.

The rest of the day promised to be fun. I might even let her spend the night, who knows.

I rolled off of her and reached for my cigarettes. Vicky looked good but she wasn't that great of a lay. I closed my eyes. I hated it when the girl would just lay there, expecting you to do all the work and not even bothering to move her hips with at least some enthusiasm. I mean, if you are going to act this way, just get a vibrator. Vicky sighed and stroked my arm.

- I need to get some sleep, Vicky, - I said without opening my eyes.

- Oh, okay, - she said without even making an effort to get out of the bed.

Right, I thought. Apparently she was one of those chicks who thought "get some sleep" meant "spend the rest of the night cuddling with me" I opened one eye and looked at her. She seemed to be happy as a clam.

- Vicky, - I said patiently. - I really need to get some sleep…

- Okay, - she giggled and wrapped her arm around me.

- Do you want me to call you a cab? - I asked casually and her arm flew away as if my body was burning her.

- A cab?! - she sat up on the bed. - Are you for real?

- I have a hell of a day tomorrow, - I shrugged indifferently.

She snorted and jumped off the bed. I watched her getting dressed. She was very pleasant to look at.

- I can call my own damn cab, - she said without looking at me.

- Okay, - I said. - Be safe.

She looked at me as if I just told her to slit her own throat.

- You are such a pig!! - she said in a shaky voice. - I can't believe it…

I shrugged and closed my eyes again. I was looking forward to Saturday and a whole load of guilt-trips-free sex with Lindsey. After a few minutes she slammed the door so hard that the windows shook fearfully. Another one bites the dust, I thought and started to fall asleep. I will probably have to deal with my mother's screams tomorrow when I finally show up at home but I didn't care. I was staying at Tony's tonight and I was not about to move even if there was fire in the building.

- IV -

On Saturday morning I felt like it was Christmas. I phoned Lindsey to ask her if she needed me to bring any wine or something else.

- Hello? - Lindsey's voice was so careful on the phone that my Christmas immediately turned into A Nightmare Before Christmas.

- It's me, - I sighed, knowing what she is going to say next.

- Dominick! - she managed to soak so much regret into one whisper that I was impressed.

- Gary's back, isn't he? - I sighed again.

- Uh huh, - she said in a small voice. - I am sorry!! He walked in the door like five minutes ago…And he is staying here until next weekend…

- What happened though? Why isn't he with his uncle wherever the hell guy lives?

She snorted.

- Because this moron got the dates mixed up! He is leaving for that stupid trip next Saturday, not this one… Grrrrr!… No, honey, I don't care if you watch TV, - she said away from the phone.

I started to laugh. I guess my karma is a bitch.

- No problem, Linds, - I said, feeling disappointed by the fact that my Saturday might turn out extremely dull. - I'll see you later.

- Wanna take a rain check next Saturday? - she whispered.

- Don't see why not, - I shrugged.

- Okay, Dominick…. See you, - and she hung up.

I put the phone on the table in the kitchen and opened the fridge. Great, the orange juice was gone. I sighed and pulled a carton of milk out. I was almost reaching for the glass when I heard my mother's voice. I immediately started drinking from the carton and my mother didn't disappoint me.

- Dominick Alexander!!! - she barked with so much anger that I almost choked.

I pulled a carton away from my mouth and looked at her with reproach.

- Do you want your only son to choke on milk?

She grabbed the carton out of my hands.

- If I see you do this one more time… - she started saying with a very dangerous note in her voice when the love of her life shuffled into the kitchen, his thin hair sticking up on his shining head, his eyes squinting against the bright morning sun that flooded the kitchen through the windows. He was wearing ridiculous pink bunny slippers which I am sure my mother found adorable.

- Hey guys, - he said and my mother's face immediately changed as if someone pushed reset button.

- Morning, hun, - she said and put milk back in the fridge.

I decided to stop at McDonalds for breakfast and started to walk away before his face made me lose my appetite.

- Hey, Dominick, - he said with what he probably thought was a friendly smile. To me it looked like an idiotic grin.

- Are you deaf? - my mother demanded when I didn't say anything.

- It's okay, Jill, - he said softly.

I glared at him.

- Morning, - I said shortly and grabbed my car keys from the kitchen counter.

- Where are you going? - my mother asked.

- Out, - I said. - Why else would I take my keys?

- Where are you going? - she repeated more quietly, white cold fury in her voice.

I rolled my eyes.

- I am going to McDonalds, okay? I need a nutritious breakfast.

- I am going to make breakfast in less than half an hour, - she said.

- I said nutritious, - I looked at her pointedly. - Plus you will probably just put rat poison in my food anyway…

- You know, - she said, - one of those days I am going to beat you black and green, Dominick. Probably with a frying pan…

I energetically nodded.

- And don't forget to poke my eyes out while you are at it so I don't have to look at those bunny slippers again.

She grabbed a mug that Don just filled with his morning coffee from the kitchen counter and threw it at my head. I evaded it easily and the mug slammed into the wall behind me, coffee exploding everywhere. I grinned at her.

- At least now it smells nice around here, - I said and walked out of the house.

I started my car and thought that one of those days I need to get myself a decent vehicle. I used to like this car but now it got to the point when it wasn't just a senior citizen anymore. It was senile and it had Alzheimer's. It was a 1983 Mazda GLC. It had a huge crack that was snaking it's way through the entire windshield, the air conditioner never worked, the heater gave out last winter. My radio used to work but now it was mute. Once in a while it would come to life and scare the crap out of me when it would start spitting something in a loud hoarse stutter but then it would go into coma again. My transmission was leaking for the past three months and when it would leak too much fluid the car would shake and groan every time after I hit the brake pedal. I kept pouring fluid down it's throat but I knew that it was only a question of time before this car dies completely and won't start anymore. At first I thought of fixing it myself but then I did the math and realized that the parts alone gonna cost twice as much as the car itself. So I decided to drive it until it dies.

I remember Don saying "Hey, if you want, I could get you a car for your graduation!" I cringed. The only thing I'll accept from the man will be the gun to shoot him or myself with. I was wondering why he won't just leave me the hell alone, why was he trying to pretend like he wants to be friends with me? He is screwing my mother, she is happy, end of story. I have nothing to do with it. But he kept pestering me with his fake concern and false smiles.

I got my croissant and a cup of coffee and decided to eat in the park. I parked on the side of the road and walked to the bench that looked inviting. I sat down and wolfed down my croissant. I was wishing I'd gotten two. I sighed and finished my coffee. Now I had to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of the day. I wouldn't go home until probably midnight so I don't have to deal with my mother again. Seriously, the woman's eyelids started to twitch the minute she saw me. Both eyelids at the same time. It was hilarious, really. I wondered if it was because I looked like a Xerox copy of my father. I lit a cigarette and started to think. I could go see a movie. I could go to Tony's place. Hell, I could go to the library and actually do some studying… But neither choice seemed attractive enough. I hated this. The day was perfect, not too hot, not too chilly. It was a Saturday. It was ten in the morning. And I didn't have a clue what I should do. Finally I decided to go to the library and do something useful.

I got there almost at eleven because my car decided to stop breathing on one of the stop lights. It took me almost half an hour to bring it back to life and when it finally started, it would stubbornly move with excruciating twenty five mile per hour speed. I decided not to push my luck and kept creeping down the road, realizing that today was probably the last day I drove this thing.

The library was deserted. There were maybe eight people in there including the employees. I nodded to the guy behind the counter and headed straight for the art section. Art was the only thing that I found genuine interest in. I started digging on the shelves and finally found a heavy book on Salvador Dali. I loved Dali. I had probably twenty books on him at home. The guy was a genius. I sat in one of the chairs and put my book on the table. I started reading and to my own surprise I got so into it that the next time I glanced at the clock it read three ten. I shook my head. Wow, I've been here for four hours? Neat! Suddenly my stomach growled and I winced. The nearest food place was at least five miles away and I had a suspicion that my car is resting in peace by now. I returned the book to the shelve and went outside. I called Tony.

- Hey, I am not here right now… - I've heard him saying and shut my phone in frustration.

- Well, damn, - I said.

I got into my car and tried to resurrect it but it won't even snore. Forty five futile and starving minutes later I finally gave up. I got out and started walking. I made it all the way to the street crossing sign when I saw the Pest. She was walking slowly towards white Taurus, her hands trying to hold a stack of books and get her keys out of her pocket at the same time. I decided to play nice. Hell, maybe she'll give me a ride.

- Here, - I grumbled and took the books out of her hands.

She looked up, startled.

- Oh, - she saw me and blinked. - Thanks…

She pulled out her keys and unlocked the door of the Taurus. I handed her the books and she carefully placed them in the back seat.

- Hey, - I said uncomfortably. - Could you maybe give me a ride to Wendy's?

Wendy's was only two blocks away from Tony's place and I was hoping to just wait for him there.

- Did you walk here? - she frowned.

- No, my car died, - I said.

- Okay, - she said and got in her car.

Okay what? Okay, your car died or Okay, I'll give you a ride? I just stood there watching her when she rolled her window down and said:

- What? Are you communicating with your mothership or something?

I blinked at that.

- Get in, - she said shortly.

I slid into the passenger seat and she took off without saying a single word. She drove the speed limit and obeyed all the lights. I cringed every time she would see the yellow light and start hitting brakes immediately. There are a lot of lights on the way to Wendy's, I thought but I was smart and hungry enough not to say anything. I was afraid that she'll just kick me out of the car. Finally, almost twenty minutes later she got into Wendy's parking lot. I almost sighed with relief. I was grateful for the ride, I really was but I couldn't stand being around her for much longer. She wasn't too bad, I thought. I mean, she gave me that book and she drove me here. I am not going to be a dick to her or anything but it didn't mean that I should like her. I got out of the car.

- Thanks… - I was saying and she just drove off.

I didn't even think of that and went inside the restaurant. I ate two Baconators and a cup of mandarin oranges before I finally felt so satisfied that it almost felt better than sex. I was finishing my coke when my cell phone rang.

- What did you want? - Tony asked me and I told him about my car.

- Oh, dude, that blows! - he said. - Where are you?

- Wendy's.

- Which one?

I rolled my eyes.

- The one in London…. I am two blocks away from you.

- Want me to come and get you?

I almost said that I will just walk but realized that all the food turned me into a beached whale.

- Yeah, - I said.

- Okay, see you in a few, - he said and I closed my phone.

- V -

- So what, you walked all the way here? - Tony asked me half an hour later when we were smoking on his balcony.

- No, - I shook my head. - I got a ride from the Pest.

- The who? - he looked at me with confusion.

- The new girl, - I explained him why I call her the Pest and he laughed.

- She is hot, - he said and I just stared at him.

- Are you kidding me? - I asked him in disbelief. - You think the Pest is hot?!

- Are you blind? - he looked at me, his eyes wide. - Dude! Did you even see her legs?

I grimaced. Why would I look at the Pest's legs?

- No, - I said with annoyance. - She is irritating. Bugs the hell out of me.

- Betcha a hundred bucks… - he started to say and I winced.

- Shut up, Tony. I am not touching her with a ten foot pole!

- Archer, you are so weird, - he shook his head. - The girl is like a freaking eye candy and all you can say is "The Pest" I don't believe you…

I shrugged.

- I don't even think of her as a girl, - I said. - She is just… She is the Pest, - I shrugged again and Tony snorted.

- Whatever. I'd do her in a heartbeat.

- Yeah, - I agreed. - It'll take you that long too.

- Dick, - he said and I grinned.

He flicked his cigarette away.

- So how was Vicky? - he asked.

- Like a log, - I said. - Blown up doll moves more than her.

- Are you serious? Wow, she is so hot that I thought…

- Yeah, I thought that too. She was just laying there. I would have more fun if I just jerked off. Even Carrie was more alive.

- Speaking of Carrie, - his eye twinkled. - How is your little ex-virgin?

I shrugged indifferently.

- I think she got the message. You know, in some girls pride is not a sin but a gift.

- Yeah, - he agreed. - Darla could use some of that.

- Ugh, - I shuddered. - Don't remind me of Darla. She bugs me even worse than the Pest. With the Pest I don't get murderous thoughts, at least…

I stayed at Tony's apartment until eleven thirty and finally decided to walk home.

- I'll drive you, - he said but I shook my head.

- No, I'll walk. It's not that far and I am not very anxious to get home anyway.

- Okay, - he shrugged. - See you Monday.

- See you, Tony, - and I left.

I was walking past the dead end street that was right behind 7-11 when I've heard somebody's voices.

- Let go!!

- Come on, don't be like that…

- Let go!! I'll scream!

- Billy hold her hands and shut her mouth.

- Help!! Somebody he…

I frowned when the girl's voice became muffled babbling. What the hell? I walked closer and saw two guys trying to pull the jeans off of a girl. Are you kidding me? A rape? I never understood that. Why would you rape someone if it was so easy to find a very agreeable lay?

- Yo! - I called sharply and they looked at me. - Knock it off, shitheads!

- Get outta here, - one of the guys laughed. - Unless you wanna join?

Okay, that's it. I try not to get in fights too often but when I do, I can deal some pretty serious damage. I got my looks from my father but my temper definitely came from my mother. The two guys turned out to be ridiculously stupid. It was so easy to evade their fists and mislead them with fake movements that it was almost boring. Finally I hit one of them in the face and he screamed when I heard crunching noise. There goes your nose, I thought. Suddenly they took off so fast that I just shook my head in disbelief. Pussies. I looked at the girl. She was sitting on the ground shaking, her back towards me. I walked up to her and carefully touched her shoulder.

- Hey, you okay?… - I started saying when she whirled around and sprayed me with something so nasty that suddenly I couldn't see anything and my eyes were burning so bad that I almost clawed at them.

- Jesus!! - I yelled. - Are you freaking nuts?! God damn it!!! Ow!!!

- Oh my God… - she muttered in disbelief. - Dominick?…

And right about now I could hear God laughing at me. It was the Pest who just sprayed me.

- Jesus, Pe… Moore… What the hell did you get in my eyes?

- Pepper spray, - she whispered and started to cry.

- Oh knock it off, - I growled but she just kept wailing.

I risked opening my eyes and to my great relief I could see. It still hurt like hell but at least now I wasn't blind. I looked at the Pest. She was standing in front of me, her shirt torn, her long hair messed up. She was still clutching her pepper spray and she was wailing like a banshee. I carefully took the spray away from her and she didn't even seem to notice. I tried not to blink. Blinking hurt. I wrapped my jacket around her, thinking that if walk out into the parking lot with her wailing like this and her shirt all torn, someone will probably think that I am trying to rape her.

- Will you please just shut up? - I winced. - You are giving me a headache…

She stopped wailing and just sniffled.

- Thank you, - I nodded. - Where did you park?

She just looked at me and tears started to roll down her face again.

- Never mind, - I sighed. - Come on, start walking…

She clutched onto my hand as if she was drowning and walked slowly when I pulled her after me. I quickly scanned the parking lot with my burning eyes and saw her car. I walked her towards it. She kept crying quietly. I sighed.

- Give me your car keys, - I said and she just looked at me.

- Car keys? - I repeated patiently. - You know, the pointy metal thingy that you put into ignition and then the car moves?

She blinked her tears off and started digging in her purse. Finally she pulled out a set of car keys and just stared at them. Her fingers were shaking so badly that she almost dropped the keys. I took it from her and unlocked the car. I shoved her into the passenger seat and got into the drivers seat myself.

- Where do you live? - I asked and her eyes flew wide open.

- No!! - she said so furiously that I was startled.

- Huh? - I said.

- I can't… - she said, shaking her head. - I can't come home like this… My dad will kill me…

I frowned.

- Are you kidding me? You just got assaulted and he will get mad?!

- He'll think that I am lying… - she muttered and turned away from me. - He'll think I am just making it up so I could do something nasty…

I blinked. And I thought my mother was nuts.

- Whatever, - I shrugged. - Where do you wanna go then?

- I don't know, - she whispered. - But I can't go home like this.

- Fine, - I sighed and started the car.

I drove to the park and walked her to the bathrooms.

- Get in there and wash your face, - I said. - I am going to do the same in the boys room… - blinking still hurt.

She nodded and disappeared in the bathroom. I felt much better after I splashed some cold water into my eyes. They were almost back to normal. I went outside and she was already there, waiting for me. She looked almost back to normal as well. Her face was still puffy from tears but other than that she looked fine.

- I can't figure out what to do about my shirt, - she said uncomfortably and wrapped my jacket tighter around herself.

I grinned at her.

- Wal-Mart, Moore, - I said. - Is the greatest place on earth after McDonalds.

That got her smile and to my great surprise I thought that it was pretty. I drove to Wal-Mart and she found the shirt almost identical to hers pretty soon. She sighed with such relief as if she just figured out how to save the world. She paid for the shirt and ran into the bathroom to change. She came out a couple minutes later, her green eyes so serene that I almost laughed.

- Come on, - I said. - I'll drive you home.

- What about you? - she asked. - I mean, how you gonna get home?

I did not think of that.

- I'll drive you home, - she said and took her car keys away from me.

This time she didn't drive like an old lady. In fact she drove with impressive skill and speed. I squinted my eyes at her with suspicious feeling that she was driving slow this afternoon just to make me miserable. She stopped in front of my house and gave me my jacket back.

- Thanks for the ride, - I said and opened the door.

- Dominick… - she called quietly and I looked at her. - Thank you, - she said and her green eyes just stared into mine.

- No problem, - I nodded. - See you Monday.

- Good night, - she smiled and something in me cringed when I thought yet again that it was pretty.

- Night, - I smiled back and climbed out of the car.

I opened my front door so carefully as if it was wired to the case of dynamite. I tiptoed inside, thankful for the fact that the house was dark and my mother was apparently sleeping. Maybe she'll finally give up on me, I thought with hope when I was making my way to my room.

I turned the lights on and just blinked rapidly when I saw my empty desk. I slowly walked to it and picked up the sheet of paper that was laying where my computer used to be. "You'll get it back when you start coming home at a decent hour" it said on it and I stared at it. I couldn't believe it! She took my freaking computer?! Is this a joke? I almost started packing my bags when finally I thought, screw this. I didn't use the computer too much and I always could check my e-mail at school or at Tony's. I turned the lights off and went to sleep. I dreamt of the Pest that night.

- VI -

It was almost Thanksgiving and I was swapped with projects. I've been so busy lately that I almost didn't sleep with anyone except for Lindsey when Gary left town a couple of times. Both times were good but she would always look at me with curiosity afterwards.

- What? - I said finally and she shrugged.

- I don't know, - she said. - You are different somehow.

- I have a crapload of stuff happening at school, - I grumbled and she shook her head.

- No, that's not it. You are… - she paused and frowned, searching for the right word. - Distant, - she finished finally.

I snorted.

- Distant? Are you kidding me?

- It's like you are thinking of someone else when you are here, - she said with a sly smile. - Could this be even possible?

I looked at her.

- What? - I demanded.

- Could Dominick Archer actually fall in love? - she said mockingly and I stared at her in disbelief.

- Are you insane? - I said with a laughter. - If I am thinking of someone, it's Angelina Jolie, okay?

- Right, - she laughed. - Whatever.

Ever since that night in September when the Pest sprayed me, we actually got along pretty well. We would even talk to each other without hissing. I was sitting in the cafeteria with Tony one day when the Pest walked by. Tony followed her with his eyes and clicked his tongue.

- Man… - he breathed lustfully. - I want to drive that car!

I grimaced.

- Will you just knock it off, - I said feeling strange desire to smack him.

- What is it to you? - he shrugged. - I mean, I get it, you don't give a crap about her but it doesn't mean that I should do the same… I just wanna… - and he energetically moved his hips and hooted excitedly.

- Shut up, - I muttered and he frowned.

- Archer, - he said. - What the hell is wrong with you lately? You don't come over anymore, your only chick is Lindsey which is really pathetic since the last time Gary left was like three weeks ago… You used to do eight girls a week, man!

- Jesus, - I growled. - I am freaking busy, Tony! Do you have a slightest idea how many projects are due for me this week? And I have to do them in the computer lab since my mother wouldn't give my computer back! Plus I don't even have a car anymore! I walk everywhere!

- Didn't your step dad say you could use his? - Tony frowned and I almost lost it.

I got up and pushed my food away.

- He can shove it down his throat, - I hissed through my clenched teeth and walked away.

- Wait! - Tony yelled. - Archer, wait! Dude, I'm sorry!…

I just kept on walking and finally he left me alone. I glanced at my watch and headed to the computer lab.

I was almost done with the third out of seven projects I had when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up and felt funny when I saw the Pest. She was holding a blue binder.

- I thought you might find this helpful, - she said and handed it to me.

I opened the binder and I couldn't believe my eyes. It was everything that I needed to finish all of my projects! All I had to do now was to type everything up and make sure it was all in correct order. I looked at her in astonishment.

- Jesus, Moore… - I muttered. - This is awesome… You just saved me several hundred of hours of research! Thanks!

- You welcome, - she smiled and suddenly I didn't want to type anymore.

I shut the binder and got up.

- Come on, - I grinned at her. - I'll buy you coffee…

To my great surprise she almost beamed.

We sat in the coffee shop and she was all but purring at her coffee mug. I laughed.

- What? - she asked with suspicion.

- I have never met anyone who loved coffee so much, - I said and she shrugged.

- I can't have it at home, - she said simply. - My dad doesn't believe in coffee…

- Jesus, - I said softly. - Your dad sounds like a character…

- Yeah, - she grimaced. - I can't wait to move the hell out of his house…

I snorted.

- What? - she looked at me, her eyes narrowed.

- Nothing, - I said. - It's just that I can't wait to move the hell out of my mother's house…

She laughed and suddenly I had the most insane idea in my head. I don't know what the hell I was thinking when I asked her:

- Do you wanna come over for Thanksgiving dinner? My mother is a nut but her turkey is good…

She drank her coffee and her eyes never left mine.

- Sure, - she said finally. - My dad doesn't do holidays, he won't care.

I shook my head.

- Where does your dad work? - I asked.

- He is a vet, - she shrugged indifferently. - Sometimes I feel like he'd rather spend time with his animals than me, - and she grinned.

- What about your mom? - I asked and she looked away.

- She died, - she said shortly and I winced.

- Sorry…

- You didn't know, - she shrugged.

I finished my coffee and realized that I should really get back to the computer lab. I wanted to finish the whole damn thing today. I didn't care if I had to stay in that lab all night.

- Okay, Moore, - I said. - I need to get back and finish this, - I stroked the binder lovingly. - You have no idea how happy I am right now!

- Good, - she smiled. - See you later, Dominick…

I almost made it all the way to the lab when it hit me. Dear God Lord Jesus Almighty…. I just asked her to come to my house for Thanksgiving dinner, didn't I?! I stood on the sidewalk gasping for air and didn't even notice when it started to rain.

- VII -

It was two days before Thanksgiving and I was gritting my teeth. Finally I was able to walk up to her. You can do this, I kept thinking. Just say it. You can do this, just say it… You can do this, just…

- What do you want? - she asked without looking at me. - If this is about you not being home for Thanksgiving…

- That's not it, - I grumbled. - I'll be home… It's just…

She looked up at me with great suspicion.

- What? - she asked sharply and I took a deep breath.

- Iinvitedagirloverforthanksgivingdinner…… - I said and she blinked.

- What? I have no idea what you just said, Dominick…

I closed my eyes.

- I invited a girl over for Thanksgiving dinner, - I said evenly and she was so silent that I opened my eyes.

She looked at me like I had a tree sprouting from my head. Her eyes wide, her face rapidly losing color, her mouth slightly agape. I frowned.

- Are you having a heart attack or something? - I asked and she finally blinked.

- Oh my God, - she said weakly. - You made someone pregnant, didn't you?…

- What? No!! - I couldn't believe this. Well, actually I could. - She is not one of… One of one night stands, okay? I never slept with her… She is just a friend, okay?

- Okay, - my mother said quietly and now it was my turn to look at her with suspicion.

- What? - I demanded.

- Nothing…

- Why are you smiling?!

- I am not smiling, you are seeing things…

- Like hell I am! You are smiling!.. Ah, there it is again! You freaking smiling!!

- Stop shrieking, Dominick. I am not smiling.

- Will you stop this?..

- Stop following me around!

- Why are you smiling?

- I am not! Pass the knife please…

- Why are you…

- Get me some lettuce from the fridge, will you?.. Thank you.

- Just tell…

- Now get that big plate from the upper shelve… Oh thank God you are tall enough!

- Will you…

- And get me some butter….

I laid in bed and all but moaned when I remembered the conversation with my mother. Dear God… I don't think I ever had to do anything equally hard in my entire life. But then I thought about Thursday and realized that the hardest thing is still ahead of me. I tried to imagine how the Pest will walk into my house and almost started crying. Jesus! What the hell is wrong with me? Invite her over for Thanksgiving dinner?! Am I going crazy or something? I sat up on my bed and threw the pillow into the wall. I couldn't sleep. I opened my window and lit a cigarette. I could care less if my mother will smell it right now. My stomach was aching the minute I started to think about upcoming Thursday. Why did I do that, I kept thinking. I wasn't drunk, I wasn't high, I was wide awake… I shook my head furiously. I have never been more confused in my whole life. Then for some reason I remembered what Tony was saying in the cafeteria about the Pest and I felt such a jolt of fury that I almost fell out of my window.

- Oh God… - I muttered and threw my cigarette away. - What the hell is wrong with me…

I went back to bed but couldn't sleep. I laid there for almost four hours and then I finally dozed off.

On Thursday morning I woke up at four AM and laid in bed. I stared into my ceiling and seriously contemplated suicide. I was thinking that I could probably get Don's gun from his office and just shove the muzzle in my mouth and end this whole thing right there. I sighed and got up.

- Idiot… - I muttered to myself and shuffled into the bathroom.

- Moron… - I kept muttering in the shower.

- Imbecile… - I hissed after I dried my hair off with a towel.

- Cretin… - now I was making coffee.

- Dimwit… Blockhead… Dunce… - I was trying to eat my sandwich.

Don walked into the kitchen and looked at me with great curiosity while I kept muttering to myself.

- Are you reciting Thesaurus or something? - he finally asked after I went through "pinhead", "numb skull", "fool", and "birdbrain".

I threw him a dark look and shoved the rest of the sandwich down my throat.

- Yeah, - I muttered. - It's for a project…

- Oh yeah? - he looked thoroughly entertained.

- Uh huh, - I said gloomily. - It's called "How Many Names Can You Think of When You Think of Archer"

- I see, - he nodded and went to the coffeemaker. - So your friend is coming over tonight? - he asked casually after getting his coffee and I started to cough. - You okay?

- Peachy… - I constrained and he smiled.

I growled.

- Oh for God sake… - I got up. - Will you people just lay off with your smiles?! God!!

- What? - he asked innocently. - What is her name?

I almost said "The Pest"

- Danica, - I muttered and took my mug to the sink.

- What time is she coming over?

- I don't know, - I said and realized that I didn't know. - Six probably… Or seven…

- Okay, - he got up and refilled his coffee. - I am planning on running to the store soon. Do you need anything?

I looked at him with suspicion. I swear to God, if he will say "flowers" or "chocolates" I will kill him right now.

- Like maybe crackers? - he said and I relaxed slightly. - Or cheese? Or maybe some flowers?

I growled like a wounded bear and stormed out of the kitchen.

At five thirty PM I could hear Don's gun calling my name. I was pacing across my bedroom, unable to concentrate on anything except the clock. I looked at my shirt and pulled it off. It was too bright. I needed something dark. Very, very dark. I put on my favorite dark blue shirt and grimaced. Great! Now I look dressed up… I took it off and thought about walking downstairs just like this, shirtless. I sighed and almost started calling myself names again when I remembered something. I dug in my closed for almost fifteen minutes and finally found what I was looking for. It was the same black shirt that I was wearing on the night when I first met the Pest in that 7-11. I looked at it critically. It looked fine. Wasn't too wrinkly or extremely dirty. I carefully sniffed at it and shrugged. It smelled okay. I almost considered using cologne when I shuddered and quickly pulled the shirt on. Suddenly my cell phone rang. I flipped it open without even looking at the number.

- Yeah… - I muttered.

- Hey what are you doing tonight? - it was Tony.

- Nothing, - I said, trying to figure out if I wanted to tuck my shirt into my jeans or not.

- Dude, I'll pick you up in like an hour then! - he said excitedly and I froze. - There is this awesome party at my friend's house and…

- I can't, - I said quickly and left my shirt alone.

- Huh? - Tony sounded so puzzled like I just told him that I was growing a third eye in the middle of my forehead.

- I… Umm… I am having dinner with my mother and Don… - I said and closed my eyes when he laughed in disbelief.

- Are you kidding me? Come on, Archer! It'll be a blast! Plus you need to blow off some steam, man! You've been so wound up lately that…

- Tony, I can't, - I repeated. - Sorry. Do it without me, okay?

I glanced at the clock. It was almost six.

- Dominick, what the hell? - Tony sounded upset.

I froze on the spot when I heard the door bell.

- I gotta go, - I said numbly. - Later… - and I shut my phone off.

- VIII -

I walked downstairs hoping that maybe I'll just trip and fall thus breaking my neck. That would be awesome… I made it down just fine. The door bell rang again and my mother shouted from the living room:

- Dominick! Are you deaf?! Open the door!!

I cringed and walked to the door so carefully like it was about to snarl at me. I unlocked it with my suddenly cold hands, thinking that maybe it wasn't her, maybe it was just a neighbor or someone else. I opened the door. Yup, it was the Pest, all right. She was wearing dark blue slacks, black flat shoes, and her black jacket. She was holding a box in her hands.

- Hey, - I said and stepped aside letting her through.

- Hey, - she walked in. - I brought cake, - and she handed me the box.

- Uh huh, - I said and took it.

She pulled her jacket off and looked around.

- There, - I muttered and nodded towards the hanger on her right.

She carefully put her jacket on it and took her shoes off. I was wishing for an earthquake.

- Come on, - I said and went into the living room where my mother and Don were waiting for us like two hungry vultures.

The dinner turned out to be not as nightmarish as I thought it would be. My mother didn't ask any embarrassing questions and didn't make any stupid remarks. Don was surprisingly tolerable as well. By the time we got to the cake that the Pest brought with her, I was almost relaxed.

- Okay, - Don sighed after he was done with his dessert. - I am going to go upstairs and lay down… I am stuffed.

- I'll clean up in here and join you, - my mother said without looking at me and I rolled my eyes.

- Just go, - I grumbled. - I'll do it.

For a few seconds I was afraid that she'll say something sarcastic and nasty but she just looked at me and walked away. She even managed to hide her smile. I was impressed.

- It was nice meeting you, Danica, - they said before walking upstairs.

- It was really nice meeting you too, - the Pest said and I made a silent gagging face while getting the dishes off the table.

She started to help me with the dishes and we were done with the table in just ten minutes. I started to scrub the food off the plates and putting them into the dishwasher. The Pest was wiping the kitchen counter. I was almost done with the dishes when she said:

- It was really nice tonight… Thanks!

- Uh huh, - I muttered without looking at her. - You want coffee?

- Always, - she said seriously and I couldn't help but grin.

I was pouring water into the coffeemaker when my elbow knocked one of the mugs that were sitting on the counter. It fell on the floor and promptly fell apart.

- Son of a bitch… - I sighed.

The Pest was helping me pick up the pieces and suddenly she was so close to me that I could smell her hair. It smelled like peach and suddenly I was so confused that I couldn't think. When later I was trying to remember why the hell I did what I did, my mind just went blank. I dropped all the pieces of the broken mug on the floor and pulled the Pest towards myself. She looked at me, her eyes huge with puzzlement and I just kissed her. At first I thought that she will smack me upside the head or something because she went all rigid. But then she dropped the pieces of the mug on the floor and wrapped her arms around my neck. She felt so good that I thought I was dreaming. Her fingers buried in my hair and I almost started to moan. I kissed her slowly, just barely touching her lips with my tongue. It was really weird but it didn't even occur to me to try and get her clothes off. The kiss felt so unbelievably good, her mouth soft and warm, that I didn't want it to end. So we were just kneeling in the middle of my kitchen and we kissed for almost an hour, pulling away for air once in a while. It was strange. I mean, I do enjoy kissing normally but never for that long, and usually when I kiss the girl, my hands start traveling down her shirt almost immediately. With the Pest I didn't even think about that. She caressed my mouth with her tongue and I almost went crazy when she slightly bit my lip.

Finally she pulled away and looked at me, her green eyes huge.

- I gotta go, - she muttered and got up.

- Wait… - but she shook her head and almost ran to the door. - Danica, wait!

She pulled her jacket on and shoved her feet into her shoes.

- Danica, wait! - I said again. - Please…

She hesitated by the door and finally looked at me.

- What is it? - I whispered.

- Nothing, - she said softly. - It's nothing…

- Look… - I closed my eyes. - I do sleep around, okay?… A lot, - I added and she snorted.

- Like I didn't know that, - she muttered and wrinkled her nose.

- Yeah, well… - I shrugged. - But this was different, okay?… - I stopped talking immediately when I realized that I sound exactly the same as on the night that I spent with Carrie. The only difference was that now I was actually sincere.

She looked at me intently and her eyes were full of doubt.

- Look… - I said quietly. - Let me at least walk you to the car, okay?

- Okay, - she said and we walked outside.

- I won't do anything like this again if you don't want me to, - I muttered when we got to her car. - I am not going to try and… - and she suddenly spun around and this time she kissed me first.

I didn't even care if my mother was watching us through her bedroom window. I still don't know if she did or not. The only thing I cared about right now was the Pest. It was amazing how I could feel her heartbeat even though she had a jacket on. I held her close to me and I didn't want to let her go. She finally pushed me away.

- I really gotta go, - she said with regret and I sighed.

- Okay…

I watched her get in the car and I suddenly said:

- Do you wanna go somewhere tomorrow? Movie or whatever?

- Let's go to the park, - she said quietly and I just nodded.

She looked at me and there was that little nasty smile of hers again that was driving me nuts.

- Do you want me to pick you up? - she asked slyly and I gave her the look.

- No, - I said. - I'll borrow my mother's car… - and I grit my teeth when I heard how lame it sounded.

She laughed softly.

- Okay, - she said.

- You want me to pick you up? - I asked and her eyes suddenly became tense.

- No, - she said quickly. - Let's just meet at the park, okay?

- Your dad?

She winced.

- Yeah… - she admitted. - What time?

I shrugged.

- I don't care really.

- Noon?

- Okay.

- Well, good night then… - she said and before I could say anything she drove off.

- IX -

The next three weeks were insane. Even I couldn't believe myself. Tony kept asking me if I got an STD or something but I just told him to go away. Lindsey called me ten days after the Thanksgiving and announced that Gary was out of town and that I should come over ASAP.

- Linds… - I said quietly. - I can't, okay?

She stopped talking and finally breathed into the phone.

- Jesus Almighty… It's a miracle…

- Oh shut up! - I grimaced and she laughed.

- Dominick, come over, okay? Not for sex, - she added quickly. - I just want to talk to you.

So I went over there. We talked for almost two hours and I was amazed how easy it was for me to tell her about Danica.

- Her dad sounds nasty, - Lindsey waved her hands in front of her face making the smoke from my cigarette to float away.

- Yeah, he is something, - I agreed. - Her mom died two years ago in a car wreck…

- Ack, - she winced.

- So her dad became unglued after that… - I paused and dragged on my cigarette. - He acts like he doesn't even care about Danica but at the same time he is so possessive about her, it's crazy. She told him that she will move out after she turns eighteen and he said he didn't give a shit. But when she would show up later than she said she would, he totally goes berserk… He keeps saying that she is doing some nasty shit behind his back just because she hates him… - I shrugged. - I don't get him.

- He is a loon, - Lindsey said gloomily. - When is she turning eighteen?

- September second.

- Well it's sort of far away, - she wrinkled her nose. - But not really…

- Yeah, - I agreed.

- So how was she? - Lindsey's eyes twinkled. - I mean, in bed?

I blinked at her and her smile slowly crept away.

- You kidding! - her eyes were so wide that it was funny. - Are you trying to say that you've been with her for longer than a week and you haven't slept with her yet?!

I rolled my eyes.

- First of all, it's none of your business… - she snorted at that. - And second of all… - I shrugged. - I don't know, Linds… It's weird really…

- Oh… My… God… - she closed her eyes. - Dominick, you are in…

- Do not say that word! - I warned her. - I hate that word! And I told you a gazillion of times that I don't believe in that bullshit…

- Then what do you think this is? - she asked me sadly.

I shrugged.

- A crush, - I said finally. - Just a long crush… Probably after I sleep with her, I will never want to see her again, - and I grinned.

- Well, - she sighed. - You are always welcome here… When Gary's away, - she added and we laughed.

It was a week before Christmas and my mother was suspiciously nice lately. She wouldn't yell at me if I came home after midnight, she practically gave me her car and used Don's while Don was driving his truck. She even gave my computer back. It was bugging the hell out of me. I couldn't figure it out until I've heard her talking to Don one morning when she thought I was asleep.

- He finally found someone, - she was saying and I froze. - Do you have any idea how happy that makes me feel that he doesn't try to get under every single skirt that he meets? I have no idea how many girls he's been through but I know that it's somewhere close to the triple digits by now…

I shrugged. Yeah, she was right. I couldn't figure out what I was feeling. On one hand every fiber of my being was screaming loudly that I did not "find someone", that it's just a stupid crush, short dry spell, and that I'll be back to normal by spring break. But on the other hand there was a little nasty voice deep inside me that was laughing manically and kept saying over and over "Dude, you are gone!" It was beyond frustrating and it was seriously torturing me. I decided to cure myself and find someone really easy and I almost called Lindsey but at the last moment I just couldn't do it. I stared at the phone in my hand and couldn't freaking do it. Then I just sat on the bed and buried my face in my hands. This could not be happening to me…

Two days before Christmas Eve Tony came over to my house. He looked like he was about to do an intervention speech.

- Archer, - he said firmly. - This has to end…

Yup, I was right.

- I have no idea what's wrong with you, - he continued. - But it has to end! Dude, you are freaking me out! When was the last time you got laid?

I thought about it and almost shuddered. Dear God, it was before Thanksgiving! Tony was watching me closely.

- Exactly, - he nodded when he saw my face. - What's wrong with you? Tell me, dude! We are best friends!

I almost told him but at the last minute I chickened out. Now that I am thinking about it, I guess it would work out much better if I just told him right then and there. But I didn't.

- Nothing, - I shrugged. - Really, Tony. It's nothing.

- Whatever… - he shook his head. - Hey, do you know what I am planning to do after Christmas?

- No, - I said absent mindedly. - Something tells me you are going to share that with me…

- Ha-ha, - he said without a smile. - I am going to get your Pest!

I just looked at him.

- What? - I asked finally and he grinned.

- I am going to take care of your Pest problem, - he laughed. - She is insanely hot and you are stupid or blind, or maybe both… - he paused. - I don't really care though. I want her and I am getting into her pants right after the Christmas break.

I wanted to strangle him. Or break his neck. Or just beat him into a bloody pulp.

- You feeling okay? - he frowned. - You are all white, man…

- I have a headache, - I said slowly. That was partially true. - I am going to go take a nap… - that was a lie. I wanted him out of my house right now before I was going to mutilate him beyond recognition.

- Okay, - he nodded and got up. - Take care, man…

He was almost out of the door when he turned his head and looked at me.

- I'll videotape myself with your Pest if you want, - he grinned and for a few seconds all I saw was red blanket of destruction. - Go take you nap, Archer… You look like shit, - and he left.

I stared at the front door for a few minutes and then I just grabbed a vase from the table and threw it into the wall. I felt a little better when the vase shattered into what it seemed a million pieces.

- X -

I called Danica around six o'clock that night.

- Come over, - I said when she answered. - Please.

- When? - she asked and I smiled. She never asked why, what happened, what are you talking about… If she could do something I was asking her to do, she'd just do it. If she couldn't or didn't want to, she'd simply say no.

- Now, - I said and she was silent for a few seconds.

- Okay, - she said finally and hung up.

I was sitting on my front steps waiting for her. I didn't care that it was snowing, I didn't care that it was windy and cold, and I didn't give a damn that I couldn't feel my fingers by the time she finally arrived.

- It's freezing out here, - she shivered. - You are going to catch pneumonia or something…

- Eh, - I shrugged indifferently.

- And then you'll die, - she said seriously.

- Will you come to my funeral? - I asked her gravely and she shrugged.

- Maybe. If it's warm enough…

I snorted and pushed her inside the house.

- Get in, - I grumbled and she laughed.

We went into my room and she looked at me with her eyes that made me weak at the knees. I hated this feeling. If this was this dreaded L-word thing then it sucked. I hated it with the passion.

- What's up? - she asked finally when I just stared at her.

I felt like I suddenly lost my ability to speak. She frowned.

- Are you sick or something?

Ugh, I thought, you have no idea…

- Dominick?… - she said and then she was in my arms and I didn't care about anything.

I was kissing her and I realized that I was digging my own grave with my tongue. And somehow it didn't even matter. We kissed for almost half an hour when to my astonishment I felt her fingers unbuttoning my shirt. I almost asked her if she was sure but then I just pulled her sweater off and all the voices in my head that have been torturing me lately just suddenly shut up. I didn't even think. It was like a dream sequence in some stupid chick flick when the camera just moves around slowly, shadows are dancing and all the girls go "Aaaahhhh!…" when they see a kissing half-undressed couple. I couldn't believe how silky her skin was. Her fingers ran down my chest and it felt so good that I shivered. She laughed softly against my mouth and then she was undoing my jeans button. We stumbled onto my bed and I realized that I never locked my bedroom door but then I figured that my mother should know better than burst into my room when Danica's car is parked on the driveway. The thought just floated away and didn't bother me. I don't remember at which point I got her out of her clothes and was butt naked myself. I remember being on top of her, the smell of her skin driving me insane. I kissed her neck and she bit her lip and looked at me silently. I slowly ran my mouth down to her chest and spend almost eternity tracing every inch of her skin with my tongue. I could almost taste her wild heartbeat and somehow it matched mine.

She pressed her soft body against mine and it was like she fit into me perfectly. I tried to remember if I ever felt like this before and the answer was no. I was kissing her slowly, exploring her perfect body with my hands and mouth and she kept stroking my back, tugging on my hair and she was constantly arching her back which I found insanely hot. Her movements underneath me were slow and fluid somehow. We were moving in the perfect rhythm even before I finally entered her. When I did, she gasped quietly and parted her lips. She felt exquisite, she was so unbelievably warm and smooth that it was like playing with butter. Not that I ever did, it's just a metaphor…

Usually I change from slow rhythm to fast rather sooner than later, especially if I want to get my sleep afterwards. With Danica, however, I wanted to stretch it for as long as I could possibly handle. I moved so slowly inside her that I thought I was going to lose my mind. She closed her eyes and then she started to bite her lower lip. Suddenly her arms wrapped around my neck and she moaned so loudly that I shivered.

- Oh God… - she was saying. - Oh my God… Dominick… Dominick… Oh God… Dominick!! - she suddenly almost screamed my name and her entire body shook.

I held her tighter and bit my lip making myself to keep the same slow rhythm. I closed my eyes and started thinking of my mother's collection of weird looking buttons. There was that red button with three holes, the green one that wasn't round nor was it square. The yellow button with blue stripes on it… Yup, that helped.

Suddenly her body was convulsing in my arms again and this time she bit my neck.

- Oh Jesus… - she breathed. - Dominick… Dominick, don't stop… Oh God…

That was all I could handle. I mean my abilities only stretch that far. I opened my eyes and then I was moving faster and she kept saying my name over and over again. Then I almost blacked out for a second when I came so powerfully, it almost blew my mind. I just laid there, shaking on top of her and she held me in her arms, whispering my name and kissing my neck. I kissed her and realized that now I was in way deeper than before. She was worse than my smoking habit. I didn't think I'd be able to quit her.

We laid there holding each other for a while. We didn't even talk. Then I was kissing her again and her hands were all over my body and she kept saying my name which turned me on even more which I didn't think was possible. I never complained about my stamina, I never had any problems with that. But that night I surprised myself. It was unreal. I think I pictured all the buttons in my mother's collection for at least six more times that night.

I woke up at almost nine in the morning and just laid there, holding her in my arms. I could not believe this was happening to me. To me! I closed my eyes thinking that the irony of the whole situation was just too much. I mean, I kept saying "I love you" to pretty much every single girl that I've been with except for Lindsey. It was so easy, those words would jus roll off my tongue so naturally and smooth, it felt like nothing at all. I mean, those were simply words! They never meant anything to me. I would laugh like a maniac every time I would hear "I love her so much, man…" It was ridiculous, stupid, idiotic and unbelievably real now. I realized that now I wouldn't be able to say those words to Danica. It would feel like they were just stuck in my throat. Now that I would actually mean it - the thought still made me cringe - I could not freaking say it! I could not even imagine myself saying it.

I sighed. I still couldn't figure out what was happening to me. I couldn't understand if I was happy or if I was miserable enough to kiss Don's gun. I almost wished for my mind to just snap but of course it never did. Danica stirred lightly and murmured my name.

- Hey, - I said softly.

- Hey, - she whispered and I kissed her.

This morning I didn't even think of those damn buttons. It was like last night trained me. I realized that now I could stay as slow for almost as long as I wanted. It made me laugh when she moaned:

- Oh my God, Archer… Are you Energizer Bunny or something?

I kissed her and then couldn't restrain myself any longer. She held my shaking body and kept kissing my neck.

- XI -

The entire Christmas break my mother kept throwing smug glances at me and finally I didn't even care and I stopped snarling at her. I was even being nice to Don. Lindsey came over to say hello - which translated into "I want to see this girl!!" - and to my enormous surprise her and Danica got along just great. I couldn't figure out how but those two became almost friends soon enough. I never told Danica about me and Lindsey and I don't know if Lindsey did, but somehow I felt like Danica knew it already. And she didn't care. As she told me once after we had our first night together: "I know about your past, I know about your girls, and it doesn't matter because I wasn't in your life. But I am now and if you will sleep with anyone else, Archer… - her eyes narrowed dangerously at this point. - I will shave your head and shove all that hair down your throat! And then I will dump you sooner than you can spit it out!" I blinked at that and immediately believed her. She would do it.

When the school started again, Tony came up to me and whispered:

- Okay, Archer… I am your official Pest remover!

I sighed.

- Tony… - I said uncomfortably. - We need to talk.

- Oh, no, - he said in mock horror. - Dominick, are you breaking up with me?!

I smiled weakly at that.

- Tony… - I sighed again. - Jesus, this is harder than I thought…

- Are you dying or something? - he frowned.

- No… It's about Danica…

- Who?

- Danica… The Pest?

- Since when are you calling her by her name? - his eyes narrowed slightly and I realized that I was about to lose my best friend. Crap.

- Tony… Her and I… We are together, okay?

He stared at me in disbelief.

- For what, one night? - he tried to smile. - Until you kick her out?

- Tony, I… - God damn! I could not say those three words! Not even to Tony. - I will never kick her out, - I said instead.

He looked at me and his eyes made me think of two frozen lakes. Yup, I just lost my best friend.

- Are you kidding me, Dominick? - he said quietly. - You and her? You said you couldn't stand her!

- I couldn't, - I agreed. - But then… - I shrugged helplessly.

- Did it happen before or after I told you that I was planning on doing her? - he asked coldly.

- What do you mean? - now I was confused.

- The whole getting together with her part, - he was speaking really calmly now. - Did you sleep with her before or after I told you I wanted her?

I stuttered.

- Tony… I invited her over for Thanksgiving dinner…

He laughed at that bitterly.

- Now it makes sense finally! - he said.

- Yeah, well…

- So you slept with her on Thanksgiving?

This was making me mad now.

- No, - I said shortly. - And, frankly, it's none of your business!

- Right, - he nodded energetically. - That's right, Dominick! Let me guess… You were going out with her after Thanksgiving, weren't you? That's why you were so weird! But Dominick… Tell me the truth, will you? You slept with her right after I told you I wanted her, didn't you? You just couldn't handle the idea of me getting some girl before you did…

His insane logic left me speechless.

- No, - I said sharply. - Tony, she is not… - I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. - Tony, this is different, okay? It had nothing to do with you…

- Dominick, - he stared at me with such cold hate in his eyes that I was startled. - How many girls have you been with, huh? How many? Fifty? More? Do you wanna know something?

- Not really, - I muttered.

- Tough, - he hissed. - I've been with three girls. Three, Dominick! That's it! And I only got them because they came crying to me after you told them to get the hell out!

- Tony…

- And then I tell you that I like her, the only girl that I actually like! - it was as if he didn't even hear me. - And what do you do? You go nuts and you just have to have her!

- Tony, it's different…

- Like hell it is! Don't try to tell me that you can actually feel something, Dominick! You have no idea about love and whatnot… You are just a sex crazed machine! You don't have an ability to love, Dominick! You are broken!

- Your face will be broken if you don't leave me alone… - I said, my temper finally taking over. - Do not get anywhere near Danica, you understand?

- Go… Fuck… Yourself… Dominick… - Tony said very slowly and quietly and he walked away.

And just like that we hated each other. It was as if we didn't know each other since kinder garden, and as if we didn't spend so many years being best friends. At first I felt bad about the whole thing. I mean, yeah, I should've told him earlier, that would be better… But finally I wasn't sorry anymore. I was pissed off. I mean, come on! It's not like I planned on this to happen! Plus I didn't even know that Tony cared so much about Danica. I thought for a couple of seconds if anything would be different if I knew that. Finally I just shrugged to myself. Maybe or maybe not. God is my witness, I was trying to get all this insanity out of my system. I failed.

- XII -

Things were great until the end of January. And then I messed up. It was January twenty third, I'll remember that day until I die. It was Lindsey's birthday and the party was awesome. Lindsey always knew how to throw the best parties. She looked as radiant and carefree as ever, chirping to everybody, laughing at the jokes, dancing. I was enjoying myself immensely until Tony showed up. I saw his date and almost choked on my drink. It was Carrie. Except she looked totally different now. She was wearing a hell of a lot of makeup and her hair was bleached.

- Hey, Archer! - Tony said lightly when they came closer. - Where is your Pest?

I threw him a dark look and he just laughed.

- Oh, come on! - he said. - I am just kidding! Seriously, where is she?

I shrugged.

- Around, - I said finally and finished my drink, feeling a little light headed by now.

He nodded and looked at Carrie.

- Hey, I'm gonna go say hi to Lindsey real quick, okay?

- Sure, - she agreed lightly and he gave her a quick kiss on the lips and walked off.

I would be somewhat uncomfortable right now but I had several drinks already and everything seemed to be just great.

- You and Tony, huh? - I grinned at Carrie and she smiled.

- Kinda, - she said and handed me another drink.

See, when I am sober stuff like this makes me suspicious. I mean, if I were sober I'd be like "Hey, she is trying to get me drunk" and you don't need to be a genius to understand why, considering how pissed at me she was and how much Tony hated my guts now. But I wasn't sober. So I accepted the drink happily. She kept smiling and handing me the drinks. And I was just gulping them down, my brain completely whacked out by then. I don't really remember what happened after fifteenth or so shot of tequila. I remember dancing with Carrie, I remember how she was pressing against me. I also sort of remember how my brain was trying to kick into gear and I almost pushed her away but then she just laughed and started stroking my chest with her fingers. Then I don't remember anything until the moment when she was trying to pull my shirt off and her mouth was all over me.

- Stop… - I muttered.

- Dominick, - she whispered. - I love you…

- Carrie… Stop… - and then she was kissing me and I was kissing her back.

Then the door of the bedroom flew open and in waltzed Tony and he was dragging Danica with him. From that moment on I remember everything because suddenly I was stone cold sober. I pushed Carrie away and she almost fell backwards.

- Danica, - I said and she silently turned away and walked out.

- Smooth move, Ex-Lax, - Tony almost purred and if I wouldn't be running after her, I'd kill him right there.

I ran out of Lindsey's house and saw Danica walk quickly down the sidewalk. I remembered that I drove tonight so she didn't have her car.

- Danica! - I yelled and ran after her.

To my great surprise she stopped and waited for me.

- Hey, - I breathed when I got to her. - You okay?

- Go to hell, Archer, - she said in the colorless voice and turned away again.

- Look, I can explain…

- I'd be surprised if you couldn't, - she said poisonously. - Leave me alone, Dominick.

She was walking away again.

- Danica!! I am sorry!

- You lasted almost two months, - she said with her old nasty smile. - Good run, you should be proud of yourself! See you at school!

- Danica, don't!.. - I grabbed her arm and suddenly she spun around and slapped me on the face so hard that I staggered backwards.

- Go to hell, Archer, - she said through her clenched teeth. - Don't ever touch me again, you understand that?!

And there I was, standing in the middle of the dark street, my hand pressed against my face, my mind racing. I watched her walk away and suddenly I wanted to get drunk again.

And then life was back to it's old self. I would go through countless one night stands again, except now I would always come to their place. I couldn't go to Tony's for obvious reasons and I couldn't bring anyone to my house because having someone else in my bed after Danica seemed atrocious somehow even though we didn't even talk anymore. At first I thought I was going to die but then after a dozen or so girls I finally felt a little better. My mother didn't as much as glanced my way now. It seemed like she has finally given up on me but somehow I didn't feel as happy as I thought I would. Now it was almost the end of February and everything that happened to me seemed to be a dream. Or a nightmare, it varied. But by now I could finally look at Danica - I started calling her the Pest again by then - and not feel stabbing pain in my heart anymore. I was finally cured.

PART II

- I -

Today was an unusually warm day for early March. I looked up at the sun and felt good about myself. I was on my way to Tina's house… Or was it Christy? I frowned. No, I am pretty sure it's Tina… Ah, to hell with it, I shrugged. Who cares. Tina, Christy, Pam, Linda - they were all the same. The only difference between them was who gave better head, that's about it. Sometimes I was wondering if I will ever get tired of this life. I mean, it's been pretty great so far but lately it started to seem a little stale. I told Lindsey about that and she rolled her eyes.

- That's because you need to try something new, Dominick, - she said patiently and blew the blond strand of her hair off her forehead.

- Like how new? - I frowned. - I am not sleeping with a guy…

- Not that new, - she snorted. - I mean, do a threesome or something…

Now that was a very intriguing thought. I couldn't believe that I didn't think of that myself. I was about to offer Lindsey to be one of us but then I grimaced when I remembered that she won't sleep with me anymore. She stayed my friend, we would hang out a lot but that was it. She said that she never betrays friends and since the Pest was now her friend, she wouldn't do me anymore. Too bad, we had really great times together… Oh, well.

I asked Tina (or was it Christy?… Damn…) if she'd be interested in something like that and she said yes immediately, almost popping out of her bra with excitement. I grinned when I remembered that. I felt so cynical lately that sometimes I almost marveled at myself. I was slowly turning into my father, I realized a couple of days ago and the very thought entertained me.

- Hey, Archer!

I froze. Are you kidding me? I was avoiding Tony as much as I could ever since that night because every time I saw him, I started seeing red. Even now, when I didn't care about the Pest anymore, I still couldn't look at Tony without thinking murder.

- Where are you going? - he asked and I couldn't trust myself to look at him.

- What is it to you? - I asked evenly and he laughed softly.

- Come on, Archer! Don't be like this!

- What do you want? - I asked him indifferently and finally looked at him. He grinned.

- Wanna ask for your blessing, - he said.

I stared at him in confusion. What the hell was he talking about?

- I am going to ask Danica out, - he said. - You know, on a real date… We've been hanging out a lot lately, just like friends, you know? She is really cool by the way! So I wanna ask her out and I decided….

And there we were again. I was seeing red, my heart was about to burst into a million tiny ice shards and it hurt like hell. Suddenly I was back where I left off a month ago. I hit him so hard that he flew backwards and slid into a tree. I grabbed him by his collar and pushed him into the ground.

- Stay… Away… From… Her… - I hissed and he managed a weak shaky laugh.

- She hates your guts, you idiot…

This time I didn't see red. I saw crimson. I have no idea how I didn't kill or at least severely damaged him then. It was like something suddenly clicked in my head and I just let him go. And then it felt like everything shifted slightly and I could see clearly again. I walked away from Tony and went back to my house. I grabbed my car keys (well, technically my mother's car keys but she never said anything about me using it all the time) and soon enough I was driving to the very familiar address.

I rang the bell and a couple of minutes later she opened the door.

- Hey, - she smiled and then frowned immediately. - What's wrong?

- Help me, Lindsey, - I said quietly and she stepped aside, letting me in.

- II -

She took my hand and squeezed it gently.

- Dominick, - she said softly, - you are by far the greatest, the most exquisite, the most amazing… - she leaned forward and looked into my eyes. - Idiot who ever existed, - she finished and I blinked at that.

Lindsey let go of my hand and got up.

- I don't get it, - she shrugged. - Probably because I am not a guy… But I just don't get it…You waste an entire month trying to convince yourself that she means nothing to you, you apparently trying to commit suicide by having way too much sex even by my standards… - I rolled my eyes but she didn't even look at me. - And then after wasting so much time you finally realize that you need her back in your life in order to survive… What, it finally dawned on you somewhere in between all of those heads and tits?

I looked at her with respect. She has never been this harsh to me before.

- No, - I grumbled. - No tits… Or heads for that matter… Tony told me that he is going to ask her out. On a real date. And I snapped…

- Tony again? - Lindsey rolled her eyes. - God, Archer… You are unbelievable! So if not for Tony you'd just keep on doing everything that moves?

- Well, not everything… - I said and she snorted. - But yeah, I guess I would…

- Ugh, - she grimaced.

- Yeah, yeah, I am a pig, - I said.

And I knew that. I was a total pig and lately it didn't even bother me. I actually found it entertaining. Lindsey shook her head and gave me a small smile.

- You are a moron, - she said and sat next to me. - What are you going to do?

I shrugged.

- I don't know… You are friends with the Pest, can you tell me if she really hates my guts?

- The Pest?! - Lindsey said incredulously and I winced.

Man, I didn't even realize that I just called her the Pest. Probably not the best thing to do if I am going to try and get her back.

- Yeah, well…. - I mumbled.

- Oh just shut up! - she frowned in frustration. - Idiot…

- Well, does she hate me? - I asked knowing that if I were the Pest (Danica, Archer! Her name is Danica!) I would definitely hate my guts.

Lindsey sighed and squeezed her eyes shut.

- Dilemma, dilemma, dilemma… - she muttered.

- What are you mumbling? - I looked at her with suspicion.

She sighed and opened her eyes.

- Well, Dominick, - she said. - Do you remember how I said that I don't betray my fiends?

- Uh huh, - I said carefully.

- Well…

- Just spit it out, will you? - I was about to start shaking her.

- Danica is my friend, - she said. - But so are you.

And then she just sat there. I took a deep breath.

- Linds, - I said very patiently. - I can get really violent sometimes… And if you don't start talking…

- Oh, just… - she grimaced. - Fine! The thing is, Dominick… She doesn't hate you, okay?

I looked at her silently.

- She told me once that she would probably even forgive you but then you went on your rampage and started sleeping with everybody in sight and she just… - Lindsey shrugged. - She said that she stopped caring but I know she didn't.

- Why the hell didn't you tell me? - I demanded, my voice full of righteous anger.

She looked like she was about to tell me that I am a moron again but instead she said:

- Because she asked me not to.

I got up and walked to the front door.

- Where are you going? - she asked.

- Someplace where I can shoot myself, - I said gloomily.

She sighed.

- Whatever… See you Monday.

I just muttered something under my breath and went away.

I tried to talk to Danica for the next two weeks but she wouldn't even look at me in school. I kept grinding my teeth so hard that by the end of the second week my jaw was hurting. Tony was glaring at me every time I'd come near Danica but I managed to ignore him. He wasn't lying when he said that Danica and him were hanging out a lot lately. He was constantly there, next to her. He sat next to her in class, he'd be there in the cafeteria, carrying her tray and acting as if he was her best friend ever. He would walk her to her car, they would always hang out together during breaks. It was killing me. But I felt somewhat better when I saw how Tony casually put his arm around her shoulders once and she immediately shook it off.

Then the spring break started and it felt strange to remember how exciting I used to find it even last year. Now it was just a week off school, nothing more. I was pacing around my room, trying to figure out what to do and finally I just grabbed my car keys and went downstairs.

- Where are you going? - my mother asked and I looked at her in shock.

She hasn't said a single word to me since the end of January. Not even "Pass the salt"

- Out, - I said carefully.

She sighed and folded her arms on her chest.

- You know, - she said. - I almost completely accepted the fact that you are a lost cause…

- Yeah, well, - I shrugged. - I probably am. See you later…

- Dominick, - she said. - If you'll manage to fix it and then blow it again, you can get the hell out of this house any time you feel like it. Take your stuff, take everything you need and just get out. Don't wait until August. Because if you will screw this up again, I don't want to see your face!

I stared at her, unable to speak. What the hell? Am I that easy to read? Or was she suddenly hit with telepathic powers? And don't even start with that crap "Mother always knows…" because that's just a load of bullshit.

- Go, - she said and narrowed her eyes. - Go and do something right for a change.

She turned away from me and I just left.

- III -

I drove to Danica's house and parked on the street. I didn't think or waited, I just got out of the car, walked to her front door and rang the bell. I knew that if I hesitated, I'd just chicken out. She opened the door and just stared at me, her green eyes so cold that I winced.

- Hey, - I said and she slammed the door in my face.

I sighed. Easy roads are for the wimps, I thought. I am not a wimp. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I thought. Well, this just might kill me. The harder the road, the sweeter…

- Oh just shut up… - I muttered and sat down on the curb.

I sat there all day and I knew that she saw me through her window. I was glad that I had three bags of chips and a huge bottle of water in my car. I was wondering where her father was but then just shrugged it off. It was a good thing he wasn't here. He would probably call the cops on me. I looked at my watch. It was almost nine in the evening. Wow, I've been sitting here since eleven in the morning! I sighed and opened my last bag of chips. I ran out of cigarettes several hours ago but I wasn't going to leave this curb even if I ran out of water and food.

I'll probably die on this sidewalk, I thought gloomily around two in the morning when the door of her house opened and she finally came out. I looked up at her without getting on my feet.

- Hey, - I said.

- Go home, - she said angrily and it made me feel better.

Anger is good, I thought. Anger is much better than indifference.

- No, - I said.

- I will call the police, - she said and I shrugged.

- Okay.

She let out a frustrated sigh.

- Archer, just go home! Get out of here!

- No, - I shook my head.

- What do you want? - she demanded and propped her arms on her sides.

- I want you back, - I said and she snorted.

- Keep dreaming! Get out of here!

- No.

- Do I have to get a restraining order?

- You could try.

- Will that get you out of here?

- No.

- Ugh!! - she stomped her foot on the ground. - You are so incredibly annoying sometimes!!!

- I know.

And then she sat down on the curb, next to me.

- Dominick, - she said quietly. - I am not going to let you do that to me again…

- I know.

- I will not fall for empty promises…

- I know.

She looked at me, her eyes sad.

- Dammit, Archer… - she said. - I can't believe this… I can't believe that I am about…

And then I kissed her. This time she did smack me upside the head but I didn't care. I just pulled her closer and she buried her fingers in my hair and kissed me back.

I realized how much I missed her when she was pulling my shirt off inside her house. Later when I was basking in the familiar scent of her skin, I was almost crazy and my mother's button collection did not help me at all that time. I almost couldn't control myself and when we came at the same time, I couldn't speak for almost twenty minutes afterwards. I just laid there and held her so close to me that I could feel her heartbeat as if it was my own. Her arms were firmly wrapped around me and it felt so good to just hold her like that, I didn't notice how I fell asleep.

I woke up when I heard the door bell ring. I looked at the clock. It was a little past ten. Danica lifted her head from my chest and yawned. The door bell rang again.

- Oh yeah, - she said and sat up. - It's probably Tony… He said he'll come over today…

She was reaching for her shirt when I stopped her.

- Oh, allow me… - I said with such malicious glee in my voice that she blinked in confusion.

- Okay, - she shrugged and fell back on the pillow.

I got up and pulled my jeans on. I walked to the front door and slowly opened it. When Tony saw me, his face became paper-white and almost immediately it went dark red. Call me a small person but I felt so good right then that I couldn't breathe normally.

- Hey, Tony, - I said quietly and he just stared at me.

At first I planned on just staring back with dead serious expression on my face. Then I couldn't help myself. My mouth started to stretch apart and I couldn't stop it. So I mimicked Danica's famous nasty smile the best I could and for a second I thought that Tony is going to drop dead right then and there. He didn't. Then he looked like he was about to lunge at me. He didn't. Instead he just threw the bouquet of flowers that he was holding, in my face and walked away without saying a single word. I felt so much satisfaction right then that I almost laughed. I kicked the flowers away and shut the door.

- What did he say? - Danica asked me when I walked into the bedroom.

- Nothing, - I shrugged. - Just stopped by to say hi…

- Uh huh, - she said with suspicion. - Then why do you look like that?

- Like what?

She gave me the look.

- You look like a cat who finally got that fish out of aquarium he was gunning for, - she said and I laughed.

- Whatever, - I sat next to her. - I just don't like Tony much.

- Yeah, I've noticed, - she nodded. - Archer, - she added in a few seconds.

- Mmm? - I asked.

- Take your pants off, - she demanded.

- Yes, ma'am, - I said obediently and did just that.

Right before I pulled my jeans off, I remembered something.

- Hey, where is your dad? - I asked and Danica grinned.

- He went back to Michigan to visit his brother. He won't be back until Sunday night.

- Sweet, - I said and threw my jeans on the floor.

- IV -

Life was great. I finally decided to stop torture myself with all those futile questions - "How could this happen to me?", "Am I crazy?", "Am I seriously in love with her?" - and just went with the flow. It felt so good and right that it was unbelievable. Lindsey started to laugh the second she saw my face next day when I came over to say hi. I didn't even glare at her as I usually would.

Tony was surprisingly calm and well behaved lately. I figured that he finally decided to deal with this whole situation and it seemed to me like he accepted it. My mother was talking to me again and would even smile once in a while after she realized that I am not going to screw up again. Don was surprisingly tolerable and I was actually talking to him without hissing. We would even watch TV together.

So yeah, it was the perfect ending for my love story. In the movie this would be where the happy music would play and The End would pop up on the screen. Except God has a very twisted sense of humor and he likes to throw a curve ball at you when you least expect it. And then he just sits back and watches you, sometimes he laughs. It was almost the end of April when that curve ball hit me square in the face.

I was sitting at home one night, trying to finish a project for my social science class when my cell phone rang. I glanced at the screen. It was Danica.

- Hey, - I said into the phone.

- Dominick, - she sounded worried. - Have you talked to Tony lately?

I stopped typing.

- No, - I frowned. - Why?

- Well, - now she sounded nervous. - He called me ten minutes ago and said that he needs to talk to me… I said I'll talk to him in the morning but he was like "No, it can't wait, I am coming over"…

I got up and started to look for my car keys.

- I'll be there in five minutes… - I started to say when she breathed:

- Hold on, will you? The door bell…

- Wait! - I yelled, suddenly so uneasy that I was almost nauseous but she wasn't there.

I've heard a knocking sound when she put the phone on the table and my heart started to beat faster. Where the hell are my car keys?! I pressed my phone hard against my ear, trying to figure out what was going on. I've heard Danica's voice and then I've heard Tony's.

- Son of a bitch!! - I hissed.

- No, Tony, - I've heard Danica say. - I am seriously busy right now, okay?

He said something that I didn't understand.

- I need to finish a couple of assignments, - she said and I've heard him laugh.

- Look, I'll talk to you tomorrow, okay?… - she was saying when he interrupted her.

- Look at me! - I've heard him yell and I was frantically trying to find my damn car keys.

- Tony, what are you doing?… This is nuts! Tony, just please go away…

And then there was blood curling scream and I became paralyzed. I've heard sound of something falling and then there was Tony's voice on the other end of the line. He sounded so calm that I wanted to scream.

- Archer, is that you? - he said. - Yeah, I know it's you. I took care of your Pest, Dominick. I just needed my roommate's hunting knife to do that… - and then the phone went dead.

I slowly shut my phone and shoved it in my back pocket. I became very calm, so calm that my heartbeat slowed down. I went into Don's office. Him and my mother were out tonight to celebrate something. I walked over to his desk and opened the drawer. I pulled the gun out and looked at it for several minutes. It was a Desert Eagle and the handle fit perfectly in my hand. I still couldn't find my car keys so I just walked.

I walked for three blocks and my phone kept ringing but I just ignored it. I felt like I was on auto-pilot. I had only one thought in my head - kill Tony. I didn't even think what I was going to do after that. It didn't matter. Then when I was at the end of the third block I suddenly had an impossibly bright image of Danica's face in front of mine and my knees buckled. I dropped on the ground and felt like sobbing but no tears or sound would come out. Suddenly Tony didn't even matter anymore. I felt so empty that my ears were ringing. I stood on my knees in the middle of the dark deserted street and realized that nothing mattered anymore. I was wrong in the very beginning - damn love was real. I was right later on though - it sucked. The problem right now was that without Danica I was incomplete and why should I stay here if I am incomplete, right? So I took the safety off, put the gun against my temple and pulled the trigger.

- V -

And then the God laughed.

- VI -

I couldn't believe it. Could I do at least something right?! There was a dry click and that was it. A misfire? This is a freaking joke. I pulled the trigger again. Same thing. I put my hand down and looked at the gun. Jesus, was it even loaded? I was about to check but my cell phone rang again.

- Oh for fuck sake… - I said and pulled it out of my pocket. - What?! - I barked.

- Dominick!!! - she shrieked so loudly that I winced. - Where the hell are you?! I've been trying to reach you for the last forty minutes or so!!

I had no idea how much time has passed since I shoved that phone into my pocket.

- Linds, - I said. - Stop yelling. What time is it?

- Almost eleven, - she said in a more quiet voice and I blinked.

It was quarter to nine when Danica called.

- Where are you?! - she demanded.

- Out, - I grimaced. - Lindsey, what do you want?

- It's about Danica… - she said.

- I know, - I interrupted her and I was so cold that my hands started to shake. - Just don't talk to me about it, okay? Tony told me.

I was about to hang up on her but raw confusion in her voice made me hesitate.

- Tony?… - she repeated. - What exactly did he say that you are still not here?

- What… - I shook my head. I just wanted to be left alone right now and figure out why the damn gun wouldn't work. - Where is here?

- At the hospital, - she said and my heart started to beat faster.

- Hospital… - I muttered. - What hospital?

- St. John's, - Lindsey said. - Dominick, what the hell did Tony tell you?!

- He killed Danica… - I muttered and my head was spinning.

- Dominick, Danica's not dead… - Lindsey said and I dropped the gun.

It hit the ground and went off. The shot was so loud that I thought I was going to go deaf.

- Dominick!.. Archer!! - Lindsey was screaming on the phone. - What the hell was that?! Dominick, talk to me, damn you!!

- Car misfired, - I muttered and stared at the gun.

- Just get your ass down here, okay?

- I can't find my car keys… - I whispered.

- Fine, just go home then!! I'll come and get you, okay?

- Okay… - I said numbly and shut the phone.

I carefully picked the gun up and clicked the safety on. I got up and shoved it under my belt and then I ran home like the Devil himself was chasing me.

I put the Desert Eagle back in Don's drawer and then I've heard Lindsey's voice.

- Archer!! - she yelled from downstairs. - Get down here, will you?!

I flew downstairs and she looked at me, her eyes wide.

- Jesus, - she muttered. - What happened to you? You look like hell…

- Let's go, - I said and shoved her out of the front door.

- … She called me at like nine fifteen or something, - she was saying after she ran at least three red lights. - And I couldn't understand what the hell she was saying… And then she just hung up. So I drove to her house and she was just laying there, it was so bizarre, Dominick… I thought it was some sick joke at first… There was so much blood, it was unreal…

I stared out of the car window, feeling completely numb.

- … So I called 911, - she kept saying. - And then I was calling you but you wouldn't answer your freaking phone and I couldn't figure it out… Why didn't you answer? - she demanded.

- I didn't hear it ring, - I said automatically and she looked at me with suspicion.

- Dominick, - she said slowly. - That wasn't the car I've heard on the phone, was it?

I looked outside for several minutes.

- No, - I said finally and she kept driving.

I walked into the room and she was just lying there, sleeping. Her face serene, bandages all over her chest and stomach. I looked at the IV in her arm and slowly walked to the bed.

- He got her right between the ribs, - Lindsey said softly. - The doctor said that nothing important was hit. It's just a cut… She did lose blood though…

I kneeled in front of the bed and took Danica's hand into mine. Then finally I was able to sob. I didn't hear Lindsey leave but when I looked behind me, she wasn't there.

EPILOGUE

I felt very peaceful today. I don't know what it was but suddenly it felt so easy and right that I almost laughed.

- Hey, Pest, - I said softly when she came out of the shower, her dark hair wet.

She threw me a dark look.

- If you call me that one more time… - she was saying with very dangerous intonation when I laughed.

I pulled her on my lap and buried my face in her chest. She smelled great, as always.

- What's up with you? - she said finally, stroking my hair lightly.

I looked up at her.

- Lindsey called, - I said. - That bastard is lucky that he is not eighteen yet… He got three years in a correctional facility.

I could not say his name. I could only call him "that bastard" She shrugged.

- I guess his graduation sucked then, - she said indifferently and I laughed softly.

- Yeah… Hey, Pest, there is something I need to tell you…

She smacked me on the head.

- Archer, I am serious. Stop that!.. What is it that you wanna tell me?

I smiled at her curious green eyes.

- I love you, Pest, - I said and this time she didn't smack me.

She pressed her forehead against mine and sighed.

- I know, - she whispered and then she kissed me.