T h e L o v e D o c t o r

"The ideal position for your date to put his arm around you is your waist. Any higher – kick him in the balls and run, any lower – give him a shot of pepper spray in the eyes."

I nodded sagely at my sister who was frowning in concentration. "What about around the shoulders?" Good point.

"Well . . . around the shoulders is sort of . . . friendly, right? But you want him to be more than your friend, and the waist is more intimate. Definitely not how you'd touch a friend."

She bobbed her head up and down solemnly as I imparted a sacred slice of knowledge us females have of the male psyche.

"Aimee, what the hell are you doing?" I blinked innocently at my older brother, Daniel who decided to poke his head around the door, and currently looked as if he were about to eat me. The cannibal.

"Nothing." See that ring of light around my head? It's called a halo.

He eyed me suspiciously. "Were you teaching Clare how to pick up guys?"

"Of course not!" I replied indignantly. Honestly, do I look irresponsible to you? "I was just giving her a brief rundown on the fine line between boyfriend and predator."

A pause. "She's seven."

"It's never too early to learn." I smiled knowledgably. Daniel just glowered back, obviously not buying into my incredibly logical reasoning.

"Danny? I have to go now. My brother's waiting in the car outside." Brooke strolled into the living room and wrapped her arms around 'Danny' (I swear, if I ever called him that he'd burn all my Hello Kitty stuffed toys), standing on tiptoes to press her face against his shoulder. And just like that his angry expression melted away, replaced by a smile so tender I would have swooned – if it wasn't my brother who had been sending me death glares a mere two minutes ago.

If I knew falling in love was enough to transform him from a grouch into Mr. Kind and Caring, I would have set him up eons ago. For the past two and a half weeks Brooke and Daniel have been going out he's undergone a complete personality change. He's less moody, doesn't get angry when I knock over his prized collection of Star Wars figurines whilst playing indoor Frisbee, doesn't complain when I ask him for money to fund my baked goods addiction, and has even started to wear deodorant (fresh air has never smelt so good). Who needs Extreme Makeover when you have a girlfriend?

Which reminds me. I'm in desperate need of cash (after being fired from work for eating more cakes than I was actually selling). I blame my colleague Jo, for introducing me to the wonderful, addictive world of tiramisu.

I tapped my foot, patiently waiting for them to finish their goodbye kiss (because I'm such a thoughtful, accommodating sister) so I could beg Daniel for 'spare change' (translation: if you don't give me twenty bucks I'll tell Brooke about the time you farted the alphabet in year six).

Waiting. Waiting. Still waiting. Oxygen anyone?

And that's when I remembered Clare, who's not allowed to watch Sesame Street (because my Mum is convinced there's some serious sexual innuendo between Bert and Ernie), let alone witness her big brother in the midst of a PDA session with her ex-babysitter. That's Asian parents for you.

So I did what any good sister would do and covered her eyes with one hand and gently ushered her out of the room with the other.

"I saw Pete and Sara doing that behind the gym during naptime," Clare piped up when we made it to the kitchen. Sometimes I seriously worry about what first graders get up to in between finger painting and story time. What ever happened to cooties?

I was saved from giving her the no-boyfriends-until-the-next-Ice-Age lecture by the sound of the doorbell. "How about you get the cookie dough out of the fridge and we'll start some serious baking?" I grinned at Clare and she beamed back enthusiastically. Cookie dough itself should be one of the five main food groups; it is that good.

I opened the front door and froze.

"Hi. I'm here for my sis –I know you."

He was one of those broody, silent yet dangerous types. You know, the ones you didn't want to meet in a dark alley at night. He even looked the part – tall, black hair, black clothing, never smiling, gorgeous in a terrifying kind of way. But for a guy who emitted a come-within-two-metres-of-me-and-I-will-crush-you-under-my-pinkie aura, his eyes are surprisingly chocolate brown. The kind of eyes you could melt into. The kind of eyes ninety-eight percent of the female population would want to melt into – possibly including me.

"Christian Ridge?" I stared at him incredulously, partly because I couldn't believe sweet, life-is-wonderful Brooke had a badass for a brother, and partly because good-looking guys don't exactly turn up on my doorstep very often. Feel my pain people.

His eyes narrowed and he grunted. Employing my extensive knowledge of the English language I deciphered that as a yes.

Unperturbed, I gave him my best hostess smile and motioned him in. "I sit behind you in Maths." And ­­­daydream about resting my head on your broad manly shoulders, I added silently. He grunted again. Did I mention he doesn't talk much?

We stood in the hallway shuffling our feet and staring awkwardly at each other trying to figure out what to say. Okay, so maybe I was the one doing all the feet shuffling and staring but he wasn't exactly being Mr. Talkative, standing there with his arms crossed, frown firmly in place looking like The Terminator minus the machine gun and Austrian-American accent. Any minute now he was going to growl 'I'll be back' before racing from the room to blow up Krispy Kreme. I always did love men who take action.

"Do you want to wait in the living room?"

"No. I'll wait here." Wow. Four words. Must be some kind of record.

Silence. More shuffling. More sidelong glances. Aside from the occasional sorry-for-bumping-into-you or excuse-me said by moi, (he'd just stare at me witheringly) we'd never really talked before. I was about to ask him about his future aspirations (oh god. I'm becoming my mother) when he suddenly leaned towards me (holy bananas he's going to) . . . to get a closer look at the family photo behind my head. (Yeah. Not what I was hoping either.)

"You look like your Dad."

"Thanks?" And when he made no further comment I continued, "What girl doesn't want to be told they look like a fifty year old, balding male with a slight pot belly, often mistaken for an Asian version of Santa?"

He raised an eyebrow (and what a very lovely eyebrow it is).

"Joke," I added weakly. The corners of his mouth tipped up slightly and for some reason it made my tummy tingle. You know, once you get past the scare factor, he's actually semi-human.

"Can you smell cookies?" He wrinkled his nose distastefully.

I inhaled deeply. Sigh. Heaven. "Clare's baking in the kitchen."

"I hate cookies," he scowled. I take back what I said before. He isn't remotely human. He's a monster! (Albeit, a very nice looking one.)

One look at my horrified expression and he flashed me another one of his tummy-tingling half-smiles. "You disagree?"

The shock of discovering my first cookie-hater coupled with a glimpse of his smile, I'm surprised I hadn't yet gone into cardiac arrest. "Disagree? Are you kidding me? You've probably just broken the law."

He frowned, puzzled. "What law?"

"The uh . . . law regarding how thou shall not dislike the sacred cookie," I replied giving myself a mental pat on the back for my quick thinking.

"Right." He stared at me like horns had just grown out of my head with little bells on the end that jingled to Christmas Carols every time I moved. I had a nightmare about that once. I woke up singing Jingle Bells.

I rolled my eyes. "You need to liven up more." I don't what surprised him more. My statement or the way I grabbed him by the arm and hauled him into my kitchen, intent on tying him to a chair and force-feeding him cookie-dough.

Which is kind of how I came to spend my afternoon baking with Christian Ridge.

The only thing more frustrating than seeing that 'to be continued' on your favourite tv series when you know next week you'll be visiting grandma who is convinced television is the cause of all teen violence and drug addiction, is watching your two best friends, who are head over heels for one another, continue to live in their bubbles of unawareness oblivious to each others' feelings.

Which is why I have made it my lifelong ambition to see my two best friends happily married with twins by the time we're thirty. I've already named their kids – Leia Ginmione Kenobi and Harron Chewbacca Skywalker (a hybrid mix of Star Wars and Harry Potter). You don't have to be perceptive to realise that they're (in the wise words of relationship guru Beyonce Knowles) 'crazy in love' with each other.

So there's one small glitch – technically they haven't realised their feelings of undying love towards each other.

But hey! That's a hurdle I'm willing to overcome. I mean, who hasn't noticed the way they blush every time they brush hands or shoot each other quick glances when they think no one's looking. Or the way I practically had to lift Charlotte's jaw off the floor and mop up her drool after Toby returned from his swim meet tired, sweaty and topless. Or the way Toby stumbled, fell down a flight of stairs and broke his left tibia when Charlotte smiled at him after he helped carry her artworks halfway across the school. She says it's because he took one whiff of her breath and dead fainted but I say it's because one glance at her pearly whites and his brain short-circuited. Obviously I'm right.

I guess that explains why I was currently masquerading as a unique cross between the Spanish Inquisition and Sherlock Holmes, attempting to reduce Toby to a babbling mess about his eternal love for Charlotte. (And if that didn't work I could always give him one of my infamous Chinese burns.) He didn't stand a chance.

Charlotte – walking towards restroom occasionally stopping to do that cute hair-flipping thing (that makes me look like I'm gravitationally challenged every time I try it) just in case Toby's looking. Toby – using menu to shield his face as he watches Charlotte walking towards restroom. Me – knows opportunity when I see one.

"So, Toby my good friend, did you know me and Charlotte went lingerie shopping yesterday?" A blatant lie, but what he doesn't know can't hurt him.

He dropped the menu and fell off his chair. I just sniggered.

Me: 1 Him: 0

He clambered back onto his seat and feigned nonchalance. "Um, really? Cool. Do you know if they sell pancakes here?" He made a point of picking up his menu and staring at it. Only the menu was upside down. Ha.

Me: 2 Him: 0

"Yeah." I leaned in close to whisper conspiratorially. "And she bought this really cute, red, lacy bra and underwear set with see-through bits and hearts along the elastic." Well actually, she bought a four-inch thick French dictionary with 'C'est la vie' on the cover but lingerie is a French word. And plus, I love the tomato shade of red he turned and the strangled noise he made when I said 'see-through'. Classic.

Me: 3 Him: 0

Hiding my smirk behind my hand, I pretended not to notice the way he was nervously balling up his napkin. "So when are you going to tell her you're in love with her?"

He glanced at me briefly, distracted (by what I wonder? Insert evil cackling), before saying, "I don't know." Score! "Wait, what did you say?!" I better tell him not to bulge his eyes like that. I don't think Charlotte finds that attractive.

Me: One hundred and fifty billion times ten to the power of seven hundred trillion. Him: 0

"Use your inside voice dear," I grinned. If looks could kill I'd probably be sprawled on the floor, with assorted knife and gun wounds, drowning in a pool of my own blood.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a key example of self-denial: "I'm not in love with her," he muttered, looking stressed. Poor thing. I've probably cut ten years off his life span.

I responded with raised eyebrows. It's not as easy as it sounds you know. It took me three years of practising in the mirror to master the art of eyebrow raising and even now I people sometimes think I'm about to have an epileptic fit.

He glared. "Even if I did like her in that way she would never feel the same way about me. She likes that guy Trey remember?" I didn't miss the way he muttered stupid jock under his breath. Ah jealousy. I should have known.

"Oh him," I rolled my eyes. "She said he had pretty eyes once. She never said she wanted to marry him."

His expression darkened. "Nice eyes. Marriage. Same thing." Am I the only one who doesn't quite see the connection?

I sighed. Why can't I just fast-forward to the 'happily ever after'? "Stop being a stubborn cow. She doesn't like him like that. Trust me." He stared. Hey! I'm a really trustworthy person. Most of the time. "Look. Do you get nervous around her?"

"No," he answered quickly. I raised my eyebrows and he scratched the back of his head uncomfortably. "I don't know . . . maybe?" In guy talk that basically means 'hell yes and it's totally freaking me out!'

"Do you find yourself questioning everything you do, wondering whether or not Charlotte would approve?" Give me a pair of glasses and a statue of Buddha and I could be a shrink.

"Sometimes," he muttered refusing to look me in the eye. Aw, he's going all shy on me.

"Do you experience overwhelming urges to grab hold of her by the shoulders, mould her to your body and kiss her senseless?" Just so you know, my tone was purely professional.

"WHAT?!" Translation: Every single second of my life and it's driving me insane!

"I'll take that as a yes. Do you find yourself unconsciously going out of your way to help her, for example carrying her art equipment half-way across the school?"

"What are you, stalking me or something?" Before he looked scared, now he was just plain defensive.

"Of course not," I replied chirpily. I nodded pensively and performed the chin-stroking action all wise old guys do before reaching an epiphany. I call it my 'old-wise-guy-chin-stroking-action'. It works. Believe me. Have a five year old girl come up to you and announce 'E equals MC squared' and there's a ninety-nine percent chance you'll think her mum's slipped her the ecstasy instead of the vitamin C. Have an old guy, preferably with a beard and a bad hair day, claim the exact same thing and next thing you know he's hailed a genius. "Well it appears to me that you are suffering from a severe case of I'm-madly-in-love-with-Charlotte-O'Connor-itis."

He just stared. Noting that he didn't exactly seem overjoyed that I'd uncovered his less-than-platonic-feelings for our best friend, I continued, "Don't worry! You're secret's safe with me."

His expression could only be described as dubious. "Just like the time you told Daniel about his surprise birthday party a week before the big day? Or the time I specifically told you not to tell Charlotte that I got her a Carebear for Valentine's Day and five minutes later I see you beaming at her going: 'Oh! Look! Carebears! You know, Toby got you the strawberry-scented one for V-Day,'?"

I gazed at Toby, wounded. "Honestly Tobes. You of all people should know that I've matured from that. I am the keeper of secrets, the carrier of the confidential, the withholder of the undisclosed. I am safer than the jam jar in your second draw you keep your PIN number in!"

I don't think he believed me because that's when he slid from his chair onto the floor and began twitching, muttering outlandish statements like 'my life is over' and 'the whole universe is going to know by tomorrow'. Like I said, outlandish statements.

After patting him on the head, I smiled reassuringly at the occupants of the cafe who were now staring at us goggle-eyed and exclaimed cheerfully, "Don't worry! He's playing Mercutio in our school's production of Romeo and Juliet and is just practising his death scene." To which Toby began to twitch even more frantically now muttering, "This is all a bad dream. I'm going to wake up now. In my bed with the Bob the Builder quilt cover and my trusty teddy Stan. None of this is real. Bad dream."

And my Dad calls me a drama queen.

Plan A: Subtly leave best friends (aka the lovebirds) alone as often as humanly possible, preferably in a romantic location (oh la la), in order to provide them plenty of opportunity to confess their love.

Plan B: Under construction.

Plan C: Non-existent.

Plan D: Please refer to Plan A.

We were immersed in nature (well, my backyard), the sky was a clear blue, the sun was shining, the birds were singing – you get my point. Which was why I decided now was the best time to execute my ingenious Plan A.

"Oh! I uh . . . need more . . . mustard on my hot dog. Yeah. Mustard." First thing I could think of.

"You hate mustard," stated Charlotte. Okay, so maybe that little fact might have slipped my mind.

I stood there stumped for a moment before my creative genius kicked in. "But I'm turning over a new leaf! I've decided to throw away my past inhibitions and embrace the mustard!" I declared, waving around my half-eaten hot dog for extra effect. By the way they were staring at me you'd think I'd just told them I gave birth to an alien.

"So, I'll just erm . . . go to the kitchen," I added gesturing towards the door ten metres away. "To get more uh . . . delicious mustard and because I walk so slow it might take a while so you guys can talk privately without me." I stared meaningfully at Toby who glowered. Forget daggers, this guy was shooting nuclear bombs. Hmph. He'll thank me for this later. Charlotte just looked concerned for my state of mental health.

I quickly darted in the direction of my house before she asked when I last watched an episode of Oprah (i.e. Charlotte's remedy for female insanity). After a few metres, I casually glanced back and gave myself a mental pat on the back finding them deep in conversation. Keeping my eyes trained on them, I ducked behind the lemon tree and set up my vantage point. You didn't really think I was just going to leave them there did you?

"What are you doing?" A familiar voice behind me caused me to jump and hit my head against a branch. Ouch. Rubbing my forehead, I whipped around and saw Christian standing there wearing a (god forbid) blue shirt (he must have run out of black ones) eyeing me suspiciously.

I glared. "Shh! Keep your voice down! You'll blow my cover!" I whispered furiously, breathing a sigh of relief as Toby and Charlotte seemed oblivious to anything but each other. "What are you doing here anyway?"

"Brooke forgot her handbag so I brought it over," he muttered. Aw, what a sweetie. No Aimee. This is not the time to be mentally coo-ing over your brother's girlfriend's brother. Focus on the plan.

Right. The plan.

I turned my attention back to the lovebirds. Or at least I tried to. It's hard to concentrate when you have someone practically breathing down your neck. And it doesn't feel all that unpleasant.

"Is that a video camera . . . are you filming them?!" Geez, he didn't have to make it sound like I was committing first-degree murder.

"Yes. No. Maybe."

"Ever heard the term 'violation of privacy'?" His voice was dry. That's all I could tell because I was making a point of keeping my back to him.

"Can't say I have," I replied nonchalantly.

"What have you filmed anyway?" He stepped closer and craned his neck to get a peek at the screen of my video camera. He wasn't touching me. But he might as well have been. I felt like I was melting. And okay, so I technically might have been filming my best friends without their initial consent, but I'm sure they'd appreciate this fifty years down the track when I showed their grandchildren video footage on how their love blossomed on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the scenic location of my backyard.

"Aren't they just adorable? They're totally crazy about each other but they're also in major denial. I mean, I love them both and all but they're a little oblivious if you know what I mean." He raised an eyebrow. I continued clinging to words like a lifeline. "And because I'm such an awesome friend I've decided to play a little match-maker and try to set them up. I've already gotten Tobes to admit his feelings to himself, not that he was all that happy about it, and now look at them." I smiled softly as I watched Charlotte blush as Toby curled a stray hair behind her ear. "They deserve to be happy. And being together makes them happy." I glanced up to find Christian staring at me intensely and felt my stomach flip. If I just stood on my tiptoes and tilted my head up a bit them we would be –

"Bet you twenty bucks they won't end up together."

"Excuse me?" I blinked, stunned.

"I said: bet you twenty bucks they won't end up together," he repeated slowly.

"What makes you think they won't end up together?" I admit, I may have come across as defensive with a little rage thrown in, but these were my best friends he was talking about!

"Come on. Don't tell me you're one of those girls who believe in 'happily ever after'. This is reality. You don't just meet a guy or girl or whatever and ride off into the sunset on your white horse-drawn carriage. People fall out of love. People cheat. People die. Happy. Endings. Don't. Exist." He ground out the words through gritted teeth.

I opened my mouth to retort when I remembered something Daniel mentioned before about how Brooke and Christian's parents divorced when he was fourteen. I was a bit fuzzy on the details but apparently Christian took the ordeal really hard. I fought the wave of sympathy that crashed over me. If he knew I felt sorry for him he'd just get angry. I settled with, "I disagree."

His face easily slipped back into cool indifference. "So, what do say? Twenty bucks?"

"Twenty bucks? No way!"

"Cheap ass," he drawled.

I frowned at him through narrowed eyes. "In case you haven't realised Mr. I've-got-great-big-wads-of-cash-that-I-can-just-use-to-fund-my-gambling-addiction, we are in the wake of a global financial crisis and unlike you, some people are doing it tough in the recession."

He didn't even blink.

"Twenty bucks and a strawberry cupcake."

"Deal!" The second he mentioned the word's 'strawberry cupcake' every single one of my taste buds went berserk. It's like trying to stop smoking when you've been going at it for forty years. Only ten times worse.

"Mmm . . . cupcake . . ." I sighed dreamily. I can just imagine my autobiography, self-titled: Confessions of a Cake-o-holic.

He shot me the kind of look one usually reserves for people who do the Macarena naked on top of a McDonalds counter during lunch hour. McInteresting. I'm sure. "You're weird, you know that?"

"Thanks for the heads up" I muttered, voice dripping with sarcasm. After that 'happy endings don't exist' comment, he wasn't exactly at the top of my favourite-people-to-spy-on-best-friends-with list. Not that there's many people on that list. In fact, I'm not quite sure there's anyone on that list. Or if that list even exists. Hm.

"Hey, Aimee?" His voice drew me out of my reverie.


"That shirt looks nice on you." He half-smiled. I stood there stunned. What the - ? Did he just - ?

I opened my mouth and somehow managed to croak out, "Why thank you. I must point out that your nose looks absolutely smashing on you. Quite aristocratic. Really highlights your cheekbones."

Note to self: open mouth and insert foot.

"Uh thanks?"

A small life lesson: the best way to remove yourself from an embarrassing situation is to excuse yourself from the conversation and bolt in the opposite direction.

"Well. I better get back to the lovebirds. They probably think I've microwaved my foot or something. Cheerio!" I beamed cheerfully and made my cool, calm and collected exit.

Correction: clumsy, highly embarrassing, painful exit.

A slightly larger life lesson: 'bolting in the opposite direction' generally doesn't entail tripping over a tree root, landing face first on the ground, getting up, accusing the tree of sabotage, kicking it, killing your foot in the process only to recollapse on the ground and asking the individual you've already embarrassed yourself in front of to 'put you out of your misery'.

"I need your opinion."

First came the shock. I mean, King of Existentialism was asking me for my opinion.

"On what exactly?" I replied cautiously.

"I'm kind of . . ." He trailed off looking embarrassed. Kind of what? Operating a drug ring in our neighbourhood and on the run from police? Deep in debt and in need of money to flee the country before lenders bash him? Being hunt down by a rival bikie gang?

"Kind of?" I prodded gently. Okay, so maybe 'gently' is the wrong word to use. 'Forcefully' fits nicely. Hey! I was dying of suspense here!

He took a deep breath and refused to meet my probing gaze. "I'm kind of interested in this girl . . ." The blush on his face was clear by now and he grimaced, which of course made him look incredibly adorable. Wait. I did not just think that. It was the alien that momentarily took over my mind. Honest.

"Define interested." Interested? There were a lot of different implications for interested.

He sighed exasperatedly. "You know," He waved his hands around absentmindedly. If he was trying to mime his definition of 'interested' he wasn't exactly succeeding. He scowled at my blank expression. "I mean interested interested." Nope. Still have no idea what the heck he's on about. He shifted as to turn away and muttered, "I thought you were supposed to be good at these things."

And then it hit me.


Christian Ridge was in love. Who thought the Iceman was capable of such an emotion?

"I'm not really as heartless as you seem to think I am." Oops. Wasn't meant to say that out loud. I quickly glanced up and reddened as he studied me, a mixture of amusement and irritation.

"S-Sorry. I-I didn't mean . . ." He waved aside the stuttered apology and folded his arms back into what psychiatrists would call: defensive mode.

"And I'm not in love with her. I just . . . like her. A lot."

Aw. He was in like. I would have squealed – if I didn't think he'd incinerate me with his glare.

"So. What do you think?" How could anyone say no to chocolate brown eyes like that? KA-THUMP.

And okay, the fact that the he was asking me for advice on the girl of his dreams who was most definitely not me stung – just a little. But it wasn't because I liked him in that way or anything. He's just eye candy. There is absolutely no emotional attachment. So why does it feel like I've been slapped across the face?

Pasting on a smile I replied cheerfully, "I'm honoured that you'd ask me."

He relaxed slightly and the edges of his mouth tipped up into a resemblance of a smile. It was an awkward, shy sort of smile that made my knees weaken and the air to get sucked right out of my lungs. KA-THUMP.

"So who's the lucky girl?" I know, I know. Curiosity killed the cat and all that. But come on! I needed to find out which lucky gal managed to win Christian's heart. Because she had to be Miss Perfect to be able to snag a guy like him, which was why girls like me don't stand a chance. Oh life! Why must you be so unfair?

"I can't tell you."

"WHAT?!" All this suspense, all this heart ka-thumping, and he couldn't tell me?! "What the hell do you mean you can't tell me?!" I demanded.

And he had the nerve to grin at me. The jerk.

"Let me rephrase that. I won't tell you." He looked so smug I wanted to punch him. Hard.

"Then how can I give you my opinion if you won't tell me who she is?" I beamed triumphantly. Try get yourself out of that one buster!

He shrugged nonchalantly. "You'll figure something out."

Balling my fists, I glowered. "You know what? You are such a soufflé!"

He stared at me incredulously. "What did you just call me?"

"A soufflé. All light and lovely to look at but with absolutely no substance." My mind barely registered the fact that I'd just described him as 'light and lovely' before he shouted back.

"Yeah? Well you're such a fruitcake." Ignoring my expression of surprise he continued. "All sickeningly sweet until you get underneath and realise you're a little bit nutty." He looked torn between frustration and laughter.

I stood there, shell-shocked for a moment before grinning slightly and admitting grudgingly, "That was pretty good."

He smiled. Christian's half-grins and almost-smiles were heart-stopping in themselves, but his genuine, full-blown grin? Lethal. If heaven is half as dreamy as Christian Ridge's smile then I'll gladly sacrifice my time on planet Earth.

Our eyes met. Suddenly the air felt thick, and all I could see was him, like we were the only two people that existed. And in that moment something passed between us. It felt new and unfamiliar but at the same time sort of wonderful.

I looked away first, stomach churning.

"I'll see you round," he murmured and disappeared in the sea of students heading back to class.

It was only then I realised I never answered his question.

"So what should I say?"

"To who? The girl?"

"No, my grandma," he muttered sarcastically.

I grinned and tsked. "Touch-y." Because despite his tough-guy exterior he had a sweet and sensitive soul that needed to be nurtured and cherished and . . .

"Are you going to help me or not?" Like I said, he's sensitive.

"Well, how do you feel about her?"

"I thought we already established the fact that I like her?" he snapped.

I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply. "But go deeper than that. How did these feelings arise? What is it about her that makes you go bananas? Do you walk into walls when she smiles? Or drop all your books when she walks past? Then think about putting all these emotions and feelings into your confession." Shave me bald, add a few kilos and a moustache and I could pass as Dr. Phil.

His brow furrowed as he thought for a moment. "Um, how about: I've been watching you these past few months and I like what I see?"

"That's perfect." He puffed out his chest a little looking pleased. "If you want her to kick you in the crotch and run to the nearest police station screaming 'stalker!'" I deadpanned. That sure wiped out his self-satisfied smirk.

He glowered. "What do you suggest I say then?" Honestly! Do I have to do everything for the boy?

I frowned thoughtfully. "How about: the moment our eyes collided across the crowded hallway the thudding of my heart and they way you stole my breath made me realise that you were the tomato sauce on my fries, the power cord to my electrical socket, the painkiller to my period pain, the twinkle twinkle to my little star - without you I am incomplete!" I concluded with a dramatic flourish.

He threw me a look I interpreted as: and-you-have-the-nerve-to-say-my-suggestion-sucked-you-hypocrite. "No self-respecting guy would ever put the words 'period pain' and 'electrical socket' in the same sentence." I interpreted correctly.

"Fine. Come up with your own love declaration then!" I huffed and flounced off but not before I heard him mutter "Insane much?" under his breath.

The absolute nerve!

"What's the deal with you and Christian?"

"We're friends."

"Really? So why are you blushing?"

Crap. Was I? "We're just friends Char."

"So all those lunches you've been spending together, the number of weekends he's at your house, all the classes you walk together to . . .?"

"That's what friends do."

"I don't remember you doodling my name in love hearts and we're friends, best friends."

"I do not doodle his name in love hearts!" A cheeky grin. "Oh haha very funny Char. We're just friends."

"If you say so."

When you first become friends with someone, it starts off awkward – filling the conversation pauses, discovering their likes and dislikes, feeling out the boundaries. But after a while you grow familiar and all of a sudden you can't remember what life was like before you became bosom buddies.

Which was kind of why Christian's torso was hanging half-way off my couch, his long legs (yes, I'm jealous. Why can't I have insanely long legs?) sprawled along the cushions, and his face glued to my fifty-inch plasma as we battled our way through a game of Super Mario Smash Brawl on my Nintendo Wii.

"Admit it! I'm so awesome it hurts!" I shouted triumphantly, striking the iconic Superman pose to emphasise the extent of my awesomeness after beating him for the, oh, sixtieth time? I lost count.

"My sense of male pride would never allow me to utter such an atrocity," he declared. Hmph. Men and their egos.

Surprisingly, hanging out with Christian was fun. (I know. Never thought I'd ever say that either.) Even more fun than making funny faces at yourself in the mirror. (Not that I ever engage in that sort of activity. Much.) Sure, he had his moments of elusiveness and tended to be a bit moody (i.e. Me: Do you want to play Wii? Chris: No. Me: How about we see a movie? Chris: Hate cinemas. Me: Shall we take a stroll in the park? Chris: Too cold. Me: I know! Let's bake a cake! Chris: Hate cakes. Me: Oh! Newspaper! How about some papier-mâché? Chris: Sounds stupid. Me: That's it. I'm going to watch grass grow. Chris: Hey! Wait for me!) But he made me laugh and could be quite the big softie when he wanted – being undeniably gorgeous was just an added bonus.

"So, about this girl you fancy," I began, wiggling my eyebrows just for the hell of it.

Christian rolled his eyes, now used to my weirdness, "Fancy? What is this? Pride and Prejudice?"

I grinned. "You wish you were half as enchanting as Mr. Darcy." He shot me a mock hurt expression. Laughing, I continued, "But seriously, I think you should tell her."

"Tell her?" He raised an eyebrow questioningly.

"About how you feel." I looked him straight in the eye.

A minute went by, and then another. Or maybe they were just seconds. But it felt like forever as we stared at each other, neither looking away. And for one fleeting moment I wanted him to kiss me. Needed him to kiss me. For a brief second, I thought he might.

He looked away first and refocused his gaze on the television screen. "Maybe I will," he murmured.

Disappointment was rudely shoved aside by anger and confusion. At myself. What was I thinking? My throat felt dry and I cleared it, pretending the last five minutes hadn't occurred. Temporary insanity. That's all it was. "Ready to get your ass creamed for the billionth time?" I reached for a controller and grinned.

He relaxed, slightly, and smiled back. "Bring it."

"Of course I can do two things at once," I stated indignantly.

"Prove it." Toby smirked and Charlotte shrugged helplessly. Stupid cow. I'll show him!

"I will."

"What are you doing?" Christian materialised out of nowhere (an impressive feat considering he was almost six feet tall) and was now giving me his usual odd looks.

"Showing Toby that I can do two things at once."

"Rubbing you stomach and patting yourself on the head?" Is that disbelief I hear?

I rolled my eyes. "At the same time," Hello? Is he blind?

He blinked and Toby slapped him on the shoulder. "The monkeys in her head have taken over her body."

"I choose to rise above your childish taunts because I am a capable, emotionally independent, twenty-first century female," I pronounced.


"Aimee honey, are you on some sort of medication with side-effects we should all know about?" asked Charlotte tentatively. Ah, Charlotte; always the concerned friend.

"Yeah, side effects including delusion and idiocy," muttered Toby. Ah, Toby; always the sarcastic friend.

"Hey! I heard that!"

"What happened to being 'a capable, emotionally independent, twenty-first century female'?" he snorted.

"That doesn't mean I'm deaf!" I retorted.

"Listen. Um, can I talk to you for a sec?" Christian interrupted, which was pretty much the cue card for Toby and Charlotte to shut up and gawk at Christian with keen interest. "Alone," he added, glancing nervously at their vulture-like stares.

"Uh yeah. Sure." I got off my chair, curious.

We exited the cafeteria, walking past the rows of lockers (oh, shiny) and into an empty classroom (ew, science). I sat on a desk while Christian leaned against a wall, hands shoved deep inside his pockets.

I blinked up at him expectantly. "What's up?"

He frowned, in the midst of some kind of staring competition with the space above my head.

"Hello?" I waved my hands in front of his face and he jerked, blinking rapidly.

"About the girl." It took me a second to figure out what he was talking about.

"Mmhm?" I nodded encouragingly because being a good friend is all about helping each other solve problems (I read this in Clare's 'Being Friends' guide from her year one teacher).

"I think I'm going to follow your advice," he continued.

"Good." Nod.

"And tell her."

"Great." More encouraging nodding.

"About how I feel."

"You go girl! I mean, boy." Nod. Ow! I think I pulled a neck muscle.

"I really like her. Love? I don't know." He ran a hand through his hair frustratedly. I rubbed my neck painfully.

"It's okay." I reached out and pat his shoulder awkwardly. Being a good friend is also about understanding each other's feelings and moods (that 'Being Friends' booklet was really interesting, okay? Even if it was designed for seven-year-olds) and right now he seemed to be experiencing some sort of emotional crisis.

"She's smart and funny and beautiful. But quirky. In a good way. And she has these big brown eyes that you can melt into . . . and a smile that makes you feel like you're the only person that matters." No wonder he likes her. She sounds so perfect she's probably not even human. Maybe I'm a little jealous. Just a bit. Only because Christian's my friend, and it's totally normal to feel possessive about your friends – right?

"She sounds awesome," I beamed.

"Yeah. She is," he murmured softly looking straight into my eyes almost making me topple off the desk. "And she's sitting right in front of me."

Wait, what?! Shocked didn't even begin to cover it. I sat there, frozen in place, my mind replaying his words over and over again. She's sitting right in front of me. And if I was stunned by his confession, nothing could have prepared me for the way he gently cupped my cheek in his hand, slowly leaned over, and kissed me.

He kissed me.

It wasn't one of those dramatic Hollywood kisses – the ones where the guy grabs the girl by the shoulders and drags her body against his; practically devouring her poor face like some kind of wild beast. It was feather-light and soft. Lingering. And it made my toes curl, my stomach somersault and my brain short-circuit. My heart was thudding so loud I'd probably deafened the entire Southern Hemisphere.

Scary? More like mind-numbingly, stomach-churningly, hand-tremblingly terrifying.

He broke away and brushed the pad of his thumb lightly across my bottom lip. Once. Twice. Sending tingles down my spine. Then leaned back, regarding me with his dark, bottom-less eyes.

I knew he was trying to gauge my reaction. I knew he had his heart on the line and it had probably taken all his courage and plus some to admit this. I knew this was the part where I was supposed to confess my romantic feelings for him. But I couldn't. There was a part of me that wanted to throw my arms around him and bury my head in his chest. But there was also a large part that was freaking out. Majorly.

I slid off the desk and took a step back, swallowing hard. "I-I'm sorry. I don't . . . I can't . . . It's just . . ." I shook my head trying to clear the confusion, unable to word exactly what I was feeling. Did I even know what I was feeling?

He stared at me hard for a heartbeat, and I saw the shutters come down over his eyes. He nodded slightly before turning around and quietly leaving the room.

I felt like I'd just made the biggest mistake of my life.

Charlotte: Tu es stupid! Tu l'aime!

Toby: But I thought you guys were going out already?

Daniel: Hey dimwit! Pass me the remote. What's up with you? Did Christian dump you or something?

Brooke: Did you and Chris have a fight?

Clare: Aw you scared him away! I wanted to bring him in for Show and Tell!

Mum: What happened to that handsome boy that follows you around like a lost puppy?

Random Individual: What did you do?! You'll never be able to take it back! (Granted, she was talking about my white purse which I had just split grape Fanta all over, but I could see the connection.)

Me: (insert word that starts with 'f' and rhymes with puck) I like him.

Telling someone that you made a colossal mistake by rejecting them, requires courage, patience, and perseverance – none of which I possess. So I had no idea why I was standing on Christian Ridge's doorstep, half-praying he wasn't home, half-praying the ground beneath me would open up and swallow me.

Sadly, God was clearly watching So You Think You Can Dance at that time and none of my prays were answered because Christian opened the door. His hair messy and wet. Which meant he'd just had a shower. Which meant less than two minutes ago he was naked. Oh god. I think I'm about to faint.

"What are you doing here?" Focus on talking. Don't even think about how nicely he fills out his t-shirt or those lips which two weeks ago were attached to yours.

"You still owe me twenty bucks and a strawberry cupcake," I blurted out.

He stared.

"Because Charlotte and Tobes are dating now." Still staring.

"So that means I won the bet." Nope. No reaction.

"Are you going to talk or are you just going to keep staring at me like that?" Cue: expressionless stare.

I widened my eyes and pointed frantically at the empty space behind Christian's right shoulder. "Oh my god! Look at that girl! She has the biggest rack I've ever seen with legs that come up to my shoulders!" He didn't turn around. I admit a huge part of me was glad he didn't. Although now that I think about it, the chances of a life-sized Barbie materialising in his hallway are pretty slim.

"Fine," I huffed. "Don't talk. But I'm not leaving until I finish saying what I need to say." Darn it! Still nothing. The guy hadn't moved an inch since he opened the door.

Alright then. He asked for it. I jabbed him hard with my index finger. I saw the flicker of surprise before it disappeared behind that blank, expressionless mask. So he's still human after all.

"I like you." Poke. "A lot." Poke, poke. "Aw heck I don't know." Poke. "Maybe even love." Poke, poke. "What I said before . . . was a mistake." Poke. "I freaked out. Badly." Poke. "So yeah. I like you." Pokepokepoke. "(In case you haven't figured it out, that was my declaration of love.)

He opened his mouth and my heart stopped. (Although I couldn't deny I was a tiny bit relieved. All that poking was starting to hurt my finger.)

"You talk too much." Not quite the response I was expecting. "You're nauseatingly cheerful." Gee, thanks. You really know how to make a girl feel loved you know that? "You're really weird." What is this? Point-out-all-Aimee's-flaws Day? "You can't keep a secret to save your life." Stop it. This isn't funny anymore. "You're better than me at video games." If he was so worked up over that why did he like me in the first place? "And sometimes you speak like you're in some kind of Jane Austen novel." Or maybe he never even liked me. What if it was all some sick joke?

I stepped back, stung, praying that I wouldn't cry. Not now. Not in front of him.

He leaned forward and something flickered in his eyes. "But for some crazy, weird reason I still like you." I stopped breathing. "A lot." My head was spinning. "Aw heck I don't know. Maybe even love." He threw my own words back at me. Jerk. Insane, unoriginal jerk who I happen to be completely crazy about.

If I didn't like him so much I'd kill him for putting me through that. "You nincompoop!" Ah, screw it. I'll just kill him. "How dare you insult me –" I was cut off because for the second time in my life, Christian Ridge kissed me.

"Wow," I murmured when he broke away. That's what he's reduced me to, the vocabulary of a four year old. Only a brain transplant can save me now.

He flashed me one of his euphoria-inducing smiles and my knees buckled. Good thing he was holding me in his strong, manly arms. Wait, did I just say 'strong' and 'manly'? I think my IQ just went into the negative numbers.

Then I remembered. "Hang on a second. I thought you didn't believe in happy endings." I narrowed my eyes accusingly and frowned. Well, tried to. It's hard to frown at guy with a face like that, who has just declared his like-almost-love for you.

He smiled softly and dipped his head so our foreheads were touching. I melted.

"I don't. But I believe in you."

A/N: Thanks for reading this far and BIG THANK YOU to all the people who read and reviewed Little Miss Perfect. It meant a lot to me, so thanks :)