Most people can't even begin to comprehend isolation. They think that they're alone when they're in a town of 500, beyond even God's reach.

But not Vinnie. No, Vinnie knew differently. He knew what isolation was like. He knew what it felt like, what it sounded like, what it looked like, even what it tasted like. It was only logical for him to know, after all. He lived twenty miles from the nearest gathering of houses and a solid hour from the nearest school. Since he was born, it had been just him and his family. That is, until Emily came along.

Her appearance hadn't been planned. Her parents hadn't bothered to call ahead and tell them she was on her way, and she hadn't had access to a working phone for quite some time when she finally stumbled onto their lawn. It had been Sherry that found her, standing by the mailbox with her two bags at her feet and looking nervous and baffled. Her story hadn't come out until later, and once it did, Auntie Ethyl had already made the decision to keep her.

Apparently Emily had rich parents who lived in the city. Something happened to their house, and Emily's parents hadn't had enough room for her to stay in their small city apartment with them. So they'd told her to pack her bags and, without warning, had shipped her off to the middle of nowhere and dumped her on the country road that was as far as they'd dared go in their battered van. It had been a two mile walk for Emily, over the potholed road, carrying her two bags. But finally she'd arrived, sore and exhausted and shy. She was a relative through marriage that no one had ever met but a few people claimed to have heard of.

Vinnie hadn't expected to like a 'city person.' He could count on one hand how many of them he'd met in his entire life, even counting Emily. He lived in the middle of Colorado's godforsaken wilderness; he had no reason to meet city people. When he'd first heard about Emily and how she'd turned up, he expected a glamorous, skinny, artificially tanned girl like the ones in his Mother's fashion magazines. She'd have no use for country folk and their ways, he decided, and after a while she'd tire of them and start complaining that she wanted to go home. Actually, by the time he got back from fishing, she'd have probably already starting pitching her first fit. Still, curiousity made him go into the house to see her anyways.

Emily had been nothing like he'd expected. She was pale and thin, but not overly so. She had frizzy but soft-looking brown hair and dark brown eyes. Her lips were too big for her face, and her forehead was slightly but noticeably squared. Still, she didn't look ugly to him when she sat at the kitchen table and eyed him with badly-concealed curiousity. She'd piqued his interest right from the start, Vinnie realized as he looked back fondly.

He hadn't spoken to her. It wasn't his nature to speak at all. He communicated through his body language, awkward though it was. He stood six foot eleven inches tall last time he'd been measured, and he'd grown since then. He was a good weight for someone of his height, about 210 pounds. While his looks suited him just fine, Vinnie knew that everyone else saw him as a large, ogre-like freak. Even his own family looked at him like that when he knocked over a piece of furniture with his clumsiness. He couldn't help it; he was how he was. At least, that's how Vinnie saw it. Everyone else saw it as a bizarre curse.

But not Emily, somehow. No, Emily had seemed to like him well enough. Oddly enough, she was able to read him. Even most of his family couldn't interpret Vinnie's motions. Somehow, Emily always seemed to know what he was thinking. When he'd broken a lamp standing up from the couch, rather than sending him alarmed looks like the rest of his family, she'd just let out a light, carefree giggle, as though to say she knew the feeling. Her smile had been sympathetic.

From then on, Vinnie supposed he was in love with her.

He didn't realize it at first. She was new and exciting. She'd seen things and been places he probably never would. It was natural that he'd want to be around her and stand, silent and brooding, by her side. At least, that's what he'd thought.

Emily used to go out in the evenings and sit on the porch swing. She'd stare into the sunset, clearly thinking something deep and important. Vinnie used to find ways to slip outside, little tasks to make it look like he wasn't really there for her. But he was, and he admitted as much to himself. At first Emily hardly seemed to notice when he joined her. She might watch him wander about the yard, but her eyes were always vacant, and Vinnie knew she wasn't really seeing him.

But one night he'd come out and sat on the porch chairs not three feet from her. He'd done it before, for a few minutes. She'd occasionally shifted a little when she heard him coming, but she had never acknowledged him. Until that night, at least.

"You know, Vinnie," She'd said suddenly, completely natural, as though she always spoke to him when he came out to watch her in the evenings. "I miss my home. You have to understand, I love it here, but a part of me really just wants to go to a cafe where you can see the hospital and watch the people come and go. I miss the restraunts, I miss the food, I miss the atmosphere. I miss the music and I miss the internet. I miss having things I took for granted. I miss all that. It's weird, though. I still love it here, even though I miss the city. I think if I left here I'd probably cry. Isn't that weird?"

All while she'd been speaking, Emily hadn't been looking at him. Even as she said that, she didn't glance Vinnie's way. Which was just as well, because he was so shocked that she was speaking to him and opening up like this that he couldn't convey any message at all.

For a while they just sat like that, with her rocking gently on the porch swing and him staring at her, wondering if she would speak again. Finally she let out a sigh and pushed herself up and onto the floor. As she passed him she sent him a melancholy smile, and Vinnie was shocked to see the pain in her eyes. Somehow she'd never seemed like someone who was particularly sad. She smiled, she laughed. Maybe not constantly, but never before had Emily seemed like a person full of sadness.

But her eyes told a different story.

From then on, Emily seemed to have an easier time opening up to him when he sat out with her. She'd talk to him about little things, irrelevant things, and about the big city and the many places she'd been. She also asked him questions, questions that surprised Vinnie. She wanted to know how he felt about local issues, and what he did for fun. Things like his favorite food, his favorite color, things nobody ever cared to ask. She usually worded her questions so that Vinnie could answer using body language, which he appreciated. Emily was the only person to understand his silence, and he liked that about her.

Everyone in his family knew how Vinnie felt about Emily. Since they all lived so close to one another, it was hard for them not to notice. They took it upon themselves to try and act as matchmakers. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you looked at it) they did a horrible job, and in the end Emily probably just thought that they were trying to get her to marry a random local.

The men of the family gave Vinnie advice constantly. He came to dread having to do work with them. They'd send him knowing looks and smirks as they passed him, clearly finding Vinnie's situation amusing. He hated their condescending.

Strangely enough, the best advice came from Uncle John. The man was lazy and finnicky, but for some reason he knew about love. Finally one day he straightened up from the pile of firewood and he was stacking and turned to Vinnie with a paternal look in his eyes.

"You have to tell her, Vinnie," he said matter-of-factly. "If you don't, there are plenty of other people who will. And I don't mean tell her that you like her. If you wait to long she might even pack up and go back to the city."

Those words had been like a bucket of cold water poured over Vinnie's head. He stared at Uncle John, dumbfounded. He'd known that eventually Emily would leave for the city, but it always seemed so far away. It was impossible for him to think about waking up the next day and discovering her gone, left for the city again. Just trying to imagine it made his stomach feel like he'd swallowed a rock.

That's was the point when Vinnie decided that he had to start gathering his reserve.

It still took him three days to work up the nerve, though. He started by going through the spare room upstairs, looking for something he'd seen in there as a child. He finally found it in a deceptively large box - the small golden ring that his great-uncle had proposed to his great-aunt with. Vinnie laid it flat in his palm. For what seemed like ages, he'd stood and stared. This ring, this tiny little piece of molded gold, held his entire future. It was almost enough to make him tremble.

Almost.

For days Vinnie walked around with that ring in his pocket. Sometimes when he was alone he would pull it out and just stare at it, daydreaming about what could go wrong and what might go right.

On the third day of that mental torment, he knew that he just had to do it before he lost his nerve entirely and gave up. Taking a deep breath, he pushed through the screen door and stepped onto the porch.

Emily was lying on the porch swing, facing the setting sun. Her eyes held their customary far-off look. She didn't show any signs of being aware of Vinnie. He couldn't help but wonder if she was having one of those evenings where she would speak at all. The idea terrified him. Here he was, finally about to do it, and who knew if Emily would even look at him? His palms began to sweat.

He sat down in his usual place and watched Emily for signs of awareness. For the longest time she just seemed to stare at the sun. As she did, a plan occurred to Vinnie. All he had to do was outwait her! When she got up and went past him to go into the house, she had to acknowledge him. However, that turned out to be unnecessary. Finally, at the peak of his adrenaline, Vinnie couldn't take it anymore. He stood up quickly and took a small step towards Emily. He pulled out the ring and held it out flat in his palm, waiting for her reaction. After only a second of that he gently pushed the bottom of her swing. Emily looked up, startled and still a little dazed, and turned to face him. Her eyes fell on the pro-offered ring, and curiosity leapt into her eyes. She reached out and gingerly plucked it from Vinnie's hands. Like someone trying to test the authenticity of a diamond, Emily held it up to the orange sunlight and stared at it, smiling slightly.

Finally, she turned to face Vinnie again, and his insides turned to jello.

"It's really pretty," she told him, grinning. "Who's is it?"

Vinnie's heart nearly stopped. She didn't know who it was for! She thought he was just showing it to her! He about gave up and laid down and died right then and there. But he forced himself to continue on, at least to keep himself from dying a the death of a wuss.

Reaching out, Vinnie's fingers gently guided Emily's so that she was holding it. Emily's face turned to stunned surprise. She looked up at Vinnie like she expected him to mumble that it was a joke.

"W-well," she said. "It's a really nice ring, Vinnie, but you shouldn't give it to me. If you give rings to a girl, well, people think you want to marry her."

A little color sprang into her cheeks with those words.

Vinnie merely stared at her, willing her to understand. After what may very well have been an eternity, Emily seemed to get it. She took in a breath which she never seemed to let out. Her face turned to shock.

"W-well," she started, and her hand clutched the ring even tighter as though by instinct. "I-I mean, that's... Well, I- can't. I mean... Vinnie, do you really mean this?"

Emily stared up at him with shocking intensity. Vinnie looked back down at her, wondering how he was going to get this message across. Words were not his strong suit, and no body language could possibly convey just how much he did mean it.

So he settled for a nod.

Emily's eyes fell to the floor, and she clutched her hands (one of which was still holding the ring) tightly to her chest. The look on her face turned into the sadness that had once startled Vinnie so much. She just stayed like that for a second, still as a statue and just as quiet. When she finally looked up, her eyes had taken on a pleading quality. Vinnie didn't dare think; he couldn't let himself believe that she was about to reject him.

"Give me a little time," Emily pleaded. "Please. I need a little time. Please, if you give me some time..."

A mixture of relief and disappointment surged through Vinnie. On the one hand, she hadn't said no. On the other hand, she hadn't said yes. A door seemed to shut inside of him. He nodded, and without doing anything else, turned and walked into the house.

The next day was awkward. Whenever Vinnie entered the same room as Emily they both averted their faces. Neither one initiated any kind of communication, which was odd for them. Aunt Ethyl seemed perplexed at to what was wrong and tried to get the two to spend some time together alone only to have her efforts thrown back in her face. Just when Vinnie thought he'd screwed things up for good, Emily had walked past him and touched his hand.

"Come out to the porch with me," she whispered.

Vinnie let her go and took a few minutes to gather his courage. When he finally joined Emily he had braced himself for the absolute worst, which was surely about to come. He'd screwed up epicly this time, and didn't he know it. Goddamn him and his big mouth! (The out-of-place irony of that statement wouldn't hit him until later.)

Emily was sitting facing the sun again. Her face carried a look of mild sadness that made Vinnie even more sure she was going to reject him. After less then a minute of waiting, Emily pushed herself upright and fixed her intense brown eyes into his.

"Vinnie," she started. "I-well, I can't - Vinnie, yes. Yes."

By the end of her statement she looked ready to just scream.

"But," she said quickly, before Vinnie could even properly register her words. "I don't want to marry you. Not yet, at least. I mean, I can't say that now, at this point. But I don't want to not marry you - I want to date you first. We can see where it goes from there. We can - Can we?"

Emily stared up at him, clearly fearful like Vinnie himself had been when he gave her the ring. He stood there, staring at her, still trying to process what she had said.

"Oh god!" Emily exclaimed suddenly. She flung her torso down on the porch swing, but allowed her legs to continue dangling off. "God. God. That was terrible. I'm sorry, Vinnie. I meant to put it better than that. I'm sorry."

She seemed to deflate then, like all the strength just evaporated inside of her. She lay with her face to the floor, not turning to him at all. Vinnie was surprised by her outburst. Was this entire issue really weighing that heavily with her? And did she really think she just did a bad job? (Whatever the job was supposed to be, it was impossible to tell.)

Vinnie stepped forwards carefully, like he was trying to avoid breaking something. He stopped in front of her and reached out awkwardly, placing his hand on her shoulder. Beneath him, Emily gave a twitch of surprise, and Vinnie had to stop himself from jerking his hand back. Emily looked up at him and stared at his face for a second.

"Are you saying it's okay?" she asked.

Vinnie nodded.

"And - you still want to go out with me? Even after that?" she continued, gazing up at him hopefully.

She'd succeeded in surprising him again. Vinnie wasn't even fully sure what 'that' was.

He nodded regardless.

For a second Emily laid paralyzed beneath him. Then her hands shot up and grabbed onto his giant one. She squeezed it affectionately.

"Thank you," she said, and for what, Vinnie didn't know. He just stood there and looked down at her. He didn't know what to do. He'd never had a girlfriend before.

They stayed like that for what felt like hours. Then Emily stood up and let go of his hand. She smiled up at him brightly.

"Do you wanna go sit on the lawn to watch the sunset with me?" she asked.

Vinnie nodded.

__________--------------------_____________----------------

Their relationship was different from most any 'conventional' relationships. Emily was fun and outgoing, whereareas Vinnie was more like the 'wet towel.' He knew people wondered what she saw in him, and he couldn't help but wonder the same thing. It wasn't like Emily couldn't do better; She most certainly could. But something kept her hand in Vinnie's, something he had no comprehension of and maybe she didn't either.

Emily had low self-esteem. Vinnie had known that about her, but he hadn't fully understood it. It wasn't that she leaned on him; more like she refused to but he could see it in her eyes sometimes when she made a lighthearted joke about herself. Vinnie didn't know what to do when that happened. He wanted to tell her that she was beautiful, but he didn't really know how. If he tried to speak it would come out all awkward and jumbled up and Emily would just think that he was being nice, even though he was sincere.

One huge spot of self-loathing with Emily was her weight. Vinnie didn't know why; she honestly looked fine to him. But still she watched what she ate, occasionally giving up meals entirely and favoring going for a walk or lying outside. She always had an excuse for why she couldn't eat with them, but Vinnie could tell a lie from the truth, especially when she'd occasionally make a joke about being his 'chubby girlfriend.'

She also had periods of time where she'd disappear. The random exits didn't worry Vinnie so much as the reasons behind them did; she always came back. Besides, she usually just went into the woods, and Emily spent so much time there that she knew them like the back of her hand. The chances of her getting lost were slim to none. But the look on her face when he'd gesture that he wanted to come with her, or somebody would ask her to stay, THAT was concerning. She'd try to smile and be cheerful, but it wouldn't work. Emily looked sad and tired then, like she just wanted to cry. But as far as Vinnie could tell, she never did. Or maybe that was why she went into the woods?

Emily apologized a lot, as well. What for, Vinnie didn't know. Sometimes it would seem to come out of nowhere. They would be sitting in the old barn, listening to an old walkman he'd found, when she'd suddenly say she was sorry. He'd tried a couple of times to ask her what for, but it never got anywhere. She just shake her head and smile sadly.

For all they got along, they fought a thousand times worse. Vinnie and Emily had gotten into their share of minor arguments, but the one huge fight they had made that look like nothing at all.

"If you don't act like you care, how am I supposed to care?"

Vinnie scoffed.

"See? You're doing it again. Everything's so apathetic with you. I feel like I'm dragging you around sometimes, but you never say whether you care or not."

Vinnie shrugged and pulled one shoulder back angrily.

"Get pissed, for god's sake! I'm yelling at you! Don't just twitch, yell back!"

Vinnie pulled his shoulders down abruptly.

"I know you're pissed, but you won't yell. Goddamnit, yell!"

Vinnie scowled at her.

"God. I feel like this is such a onesided relationship."

That hurt. Vinnie scowled even deeper and turned his head to the side, still glaring at her.

Emily swore and turned and stalked towards the house. Just before she pulled the door open she turned to face him.

"If you don't want to go out with me then don't!"

She didn't wait around for a reaction before slamming her way inside.

The next day it was painfully obvious they were mad at each other. Vinnie stormed around with an irritated expression on his face, and his footsteps made the house shake more than usual. Emily made a point of ignoring him for the first part of the day. Gradually, as time passed, she cooled down. Unfortunately, cooling down meant giving Vinnie some of the iciest treatment ever known to man, it seemed. When she had to move past or around him, her eyes slid over him like he meaningless. Whenever she looked at him she sent him the dark look of a woman who's just had her pride hurt. She seemed to take pleasure in brushing her hair over her shoulder or otherwise dismissing Vinnie.

This behavior continued on into the second day, until about the middle of the day. Vinnie was coming up the walk into the house, and Emily was sitting by the front door. As he came closer she stood up. Her face was open again, and her eyes looked exhausted. As Vinnie passed her she spoke up.

"Vinnie, I'm sorry."

Her tone held a sort of desperation to it that Vinnie rarely heard. However, he refused to let it move him.

The next day they awkwardly passed around each other. Vinnie was still mad, and Emily was remorseful. The entire family watched the two with morbid fascination. They seemed to hold pity for Emily and awe at Vinnie. They'd all figured it was impossible for him to get mad at her.

That evening Vinnie went out and sat by Emily on the porch. For a while Emily just kept staring out at the sunset as she was prone to doing. Then she seemed to make up her mind. She pushed herself up off the swing and walked over to Vinnie. She crouched down at his side, dwarving herself even farther in comparison to him.

"I'm sorry, Vinnie," she spoke. "I shouldn't have said that."

Which part? Vinnie wondered.

But finally he gave in. After all, she'd said she was sorry, and he knew that she meant it. He placed his hand on her head gently and affectionately.

"Do you forgive me?" asked Emily, smiling like she hardly dared to hope up at him.

Vinnie nodded.

For a second Emily looked like she wanted to say something else, but in the end she just rested her head down and smiled contentedly.

That year, they entered into high school together. Vinnie was on his last year, and Emily was a sophomore. The couple took the entire high school by surprise. The thought that Vinnie actually had a girlfriend was shocking enough, but a smart, pretty girl like Emily? It was downright shocking. For the first three days Emily was bombarded by questions asking whether she was really Vinnie's girlfriend. She smiled and nodded yes to all of them, even the most annoying ones.

The school was small enough that everyone knew about the relationship, even the teachers. They were just as surprised as the students. Most of them looked on Emily with pity, like the poor girl was having some sort of troubles. Emily just ignored it.

For that reason, when Mrs. Hanbarb approached Vinnie one day between seventh and eighth period, he figured it was probably something relating somehow to Emily. He turned to her and looked down at her face blankly.

"Have you seen Emily?" Mrs. Hanbarb fidgeted under Vinnie's gaze. "She hasn't been to my class yet. She was there for my third period, but I can't find her now. Mary said she was here this morning but she disappeared after lunch. She's worried because Emily's been acting sick. I thought she might have gone home, but you're her ride back, right?"

Vinnie had spaced out by this point trying to figure out where she could be. She couldn't have gone terribly far; maybe she just hadn't been feeling well and had gone to the bathroom instead of to class?

"Hehm," Mrs. Hanbarb cleared her throat. Vinnie tuned back in enough to nod without looking at her and brush past her, heading towards his next class absently. Emily would show up eventually, he was sure of it. She'd never disappeared for long enough that anyone had to go out and look for her. She'd either be in her next period class or waiting on the hood of his old truck when it was time to go home for school.

However, ten minutes after the dismissal bell found Vinnie sitting in his truck, still alone. Emily was always there by now. His eyes scanned the last few student as they straggled past him, but he couldn't pick out Emily. He pulled the keys out of the ignition and climbed out of the car. He was going to have to look.

For the next twenty minutes Vinnie scoured the school. He checked every classroom he passed, he checked the Principal's office and the nurse's office, he even went so far as to knock on the door to the girls bathroom as loudly as he dared. No response. Beginning to worry, Vinnie left the school and started to search the woods fringing the school property. She couldn't have gone more than twenty feet either way; past that there was a cliff face. Vinnie looked diligently through the brush, but he still couldn't find her. By the time Vinnie got back to his truck (Still empty) it was 4 o'clock and there was a lump the size of a fist in his stomach.

The next place to look was the nearby town. It was a modest cluster of houses and small businesses, but it was really the only place to go. It was fifteen minutes from the school on foot. People cut class and wandered over there all the time. Still, it was a cause for concern. The only path to town was to walk on the edge of the road, which had it's fair share of sharp turns. A reckless driver could run over a pedestian before they even saw them.

However, much to Vinnie's relief (and, at the same time, concern.) he didn't see Emily on the way into town. That meant she'd made it into the town safely, assuming that had been where she went. As he crawled along main street, he kept his eyes out.

It was only as he approached the local quik mart that Vinnie saw her.

Emily was sitting in the grass right by the parking lot with her knees to her chest and her back to Vinnie. Still, he recognized the grey shirt she'd been wearing that morning. She didn't look up as he pulled into the parking lot in front of her and hopped out of the car. He strode over to where she was sitting, clenching his jaw. What the hell was she thinking?

She still didn't look up as Vinnie stood over her, looking down. For what could have a few seconds or a few decades he remained frozen, angrily gazing down at her.

Finally Emily sighed.

"I'm sorry," She breathed. Her head fell forwards into her knees. Her back didn't shake, but Vinnie couldn't help but wonder whether she was crying. He crouched down, now as concerned as he was angry.

"I'm sorry," said Emily again a second later. Her voice was positively miserable. "You're always being so kind to me, and here I am - here I am -"

She couldn't seem to finish.

Vinnie stayed crouched besides her, surveying her. She looked fine to him, no apparent scratches or bruises. Then again, he couldn't see her face. Part of his anger melted away as he watched her, vulnerable and lachrymose, sitting so pitifully on the ground.

Finally she seemed to compose herself a bit. She raised her face up, but refused to look at Vinnie.

"I need to tell you something," said Emily.

Vinnie's mind immediately raced through worst-case scenarios. She had cheated on him, she was breaking up with him, she was going back to the city (God no please no), she'd been attacked or... he couldn't finish that thought.

"I just need to tell you this story," Emily said. "And then you can decide to react when I'm done. Please, just don't interrupt me. I need to get through this."

And she began a story.

---------

There was a girl named Kara. She was pretty and smart and funny. Everyone loved Kara, everyone. Well, maybe save one.

Kara had a boyfriend named Justin. He was introverted, abrasive, and possessive. Nobody knew what Kara saw in Justin, but she really did love him. She couldn't go a whole day without mentioning his name, except when they were fighting. And oh, did they fight!

"You moved my math assignment!? Thanks a lot, Kara. That was due today!"

"I'm sorry," Kara pleaded, contrite. All around her crowds of students were sending the two weird looks. It was the time between class where, unfortunately, everyone was out to see the display. Between the fighting couple was an open locker stuffed with books, and occasionally there were two of one. It was apparent that someone other than the intended user was storing their stuff in there.

"Yeah right," snapped Justin. "You're always freaking doing this to me! Why can't you just stay out of my stuff?"

"Well, I left my math book in your locker," Kara replied, still looking sorry. "Why can't you turn in your assignment later?"

"My teacher won't accept late work," Justin replied bitterly. 'Thanks a lot, Kara. Do you know what this is going to do to my grade? And that bitch Brantley isn't going to let me make it up. Why the hell can't you just stay away from my stuff?"

"You let me leave my math book in there," said Kara, slightly defensively.

"Yeah, but I didn't give you permission to move my stuff!" snapped Justin furiously. "You didn't have to dig in there to find room! You could have laid it on top of my books."

"But you yelled at me the last time I did that," Kara pointed out.

"So!?" shouted Justin. "You made a mess of my stuff. Now look what you did. My grades are completely screwed up now thanks to you. If I don't graduate this year it's gonna be all your fault!"

"Calm down, Justin," Kara begged. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to."

"Like hell you didn't!" Justin snapped back. "You're always doing this. God. I don't know why I even bother with you."

He turned away from her furiously, grabbed his health textbook, and slammed the locker door shut loudly. Kara flinched. Justin ignored her as he stormed back, obviously pissed.

Kara slunk off miserably, face red with humiliation and shame. She was near tears.

She dropped into her usual lunch table a little while later, face blank. Amelia looked up, the only one to acknowledge her.

"Are you okay, Kara?" she asked. She'd been friends with the older girl long enough to know when something was the matter.

"Nothing," Kara deadpanned. Amelia chose to let it drop. Picking never helps, after all.

"How's living with Justin going?" asked Judith obliviously, turning to smile at Kara.

"Fine," said Kara quickly, making it clear that she wanted to get off the subject as quickly as possible. Judith looked like she had more to say, but Melissa interrupted her before she could.

"So, this weekend I'm going to go into Fairmenton and get my new cellphone!" she chirped cheerfully. Judith turned to face her, completely blocking out Kara to focus on her best friend.

"Really? Have you decided which model you want?" She asked curiously.

"Nah. I'll pick while I'm there," Melissa said dismissively.

With that, Kara was quickly and abruptly pushed the the proverbial back burner.

------

Meanwhile, Justin was sitting in class and seething. It was times like these when he was glad that their school had two lunch periods and his was different from Kara's. If he saw her again, he was going to hit her.

All the while he'd been going through the motions of writing a paper on oxidation, He'd really been thinking about the zero he know had in math and the person who'd caused him to get it. Kara, the bane of his existence.

For almost all of the past two years, Justin had been doing everything for Kara. He bought her presents, looked after her, reminded her when to eat, and put up with her raging teenaged-girl hormones. He'd been a good boyfriend to her, and she always threw it back in his face. His anger reached a boiling point inside of him, and he gripped the pencil so tightly he almost melded the wood molecules and his skin molecules together. He mentally pictured Kara's face, and how it would look if he just lost it and hit her.

That helped.

Justin's grip let up. With a sigh of disgust he turned back to his paper, trying to get the image of his neurotic girlfriend out of his head.

-----

The sound of a phone ringing snatched Kara out of her peaceful sleep. Her eyes fluttered open and darted around her phone in confusion. For a second she couldn't figure out what was going on. Then her brain placed an image to the sound. Her hand shot out and grabbed the cellphone laying on her bedside table just before the fourth ring. She flipped it over and pulled it to her ear, already knowing the caller.

"Hey, Kara. I can't find the remote. Oh, and my stomach hurts. Got any antacids?"

Kara smiled at Justin's voice. If he was calling her this late, it must mean he forgave her. Of course. He always did.

"Mhm," she said weakly. She pushed herself out of bed and let her feet dangle on the floor for a minute before standing up. Her hands absently shut the cellphone to hang up. She'd see Justin in a minute, anyways.

The house was quiet as she padded into the kitchen. Justin's older brother was in bed upstairs, and he probably wouldn't stir until 3 o'clock the next day. He'd just gotten off one of his huge World of Warcraft binges, so Justin was mostly up late trying to beat his score. Kara let out a tired sigh. Men and their videogames.

She pulled open medicine cabinet and started to rifle around. Random empty pill bottles fell out and rolled around, and Kara cringed at the noise they made as they hit the floor and counter. It sounded loud to her ears, which hadn't fully woken up yet. Her mind went to Justin, and she hoped he couldn't hear the noise she was making. If he had one of his midnight headaches he'd been pissed at her for this.

Finally Kara's hands collided with a bottle of a very familiar texture. She pulled it out and examined the table. Sure enough, generic-brand antacids. She pried open the lid and spilled one into her hand. That done, she set the pale-blue tablet onto the center island behind her and started to clean up the pill bottles, shoving them in at random. Nobody besides her and Justin's brother ever went in there anyways, and he'd just pop whatever pill he could find indescriminately.

Kara shut the cabinet gently, grabbed the antacid, and strode into the only room with any light at all coming from it. Justin was sitting on the couch in front of the TV, a stupefied look on his face. Kara strode over and laid the tablet on the couch arm besides him.

"Thanks," he droned, not taking his eyes from the TV. Kara didn't respond. She'd already begun digging through the random assortment of garbage for the remote. For five whole minutes she searched. Finally there was only one place to look. She shoved Justin gently until he moved out of her way, and had almost lifted the first couch cushion before she noticed something laying between the pillows attatched to the back of the couch. She reached out and soundlessly plucked the remote from where it had been trapped. She presented it to him just as quietly. For a moment he continued to stare at the screen in front of him, but finally he grabbed the control from her lifelessly. Kara only waited for ten seconds for a thank-you before she sighed and passed him to get to the staircase. He was in his own little world now; he didn't even know she was there.

She pulled herself up the stairs again wearily. She hadn't slept well the previous night, and it was starting to take its toll on her body. She shuffled into her bedroom and barely made it to her bed before she fell onto it and pulled the blanket over her. Before she could slip back off she glanced over at the clock. 3:30 AM. Great. She only had an hour and a half left to sleep. Mentally, Kara groaned. But she knew better then to dwell on it; if she started worrying her she'd get a stomachache and not be able to rest anymore. She pulled the covers protectively over her head and drifted back off.

----------

The sound of Kara's alarm woke her up again, this time at 5:05 AM. The annoying beeping noise started up a steady throbbing in her head. Kara groaned and laid one hand across the temple. With the other she pressed the 'off' button. For a second she just lay flat against the mattress, fighting the throbbing pain. After a minute or so she pushed herself up and out of bed, not pausing to think. He tired feet stumbled, and she almost pitched headfirst onto the floor. By some miracle she stood upright. The room still seemed to buck a little beneath her feet. Kara blinked rapidly, trying to wake herself up a bit more, but to no avail. Finally she just sighed and gave up.

Going down the stairs required her to cling to the handrail. The headache was making her disoriented. The moment her feet hit the floor she let out a breath of relief. She'd been sure for a second there that she was going to fall and break her head open.

She went through her typical routine in the kitchen while still half asleep. First Kara made Justin's breakfast. Then she started up the electric griddle to make him a fried sandwich for lunch. She gathered the ingredients around her, trying hard to focus through the sleepy haze her mind was in. Bacon... bacon went on the griddle. Buttered bread around the bacon. Pull it off, leave bacon on. Wait, wait. Bacon not done yet. Grab a glass of water. Sip. Throb. Flip bacon. Lean against counter.

For a second Kara's head nodded against her chest, but less than a minute later she jerked up. The bacon in front of her was nearly done. She sighed. She must have been more tired then she originally thought. For a second she just rubbed her forehead wearily. Around her, the house remained silent, which meant that she would have to wake Justin up again.

Her eyes found the bacon again for a second. It looked fine. With pale, weak hands Kara assembled the sandwich and laid it on the counter. After checking over her handiwork for mistakes, Kara limped out of the room and into the living room.

The TV was still on. Justin had fallen over onto his side, and he was sleeping with his mouth open. The alarm on the clock besides him must have been turned off, because it was two minutes from when he should have woken up. Kara mentally cringed at what he was going to say when he saw that.

She approached him softly and began to shake his shoulder gently so as not to startle him.

"Justin," she called. "Justin."

Justin didn't move.

"Justin, get up!" she called louder, shaking him harder. Still Justin didn't stir. With a sigh, Kara wormed her hands under him and pulled him into an upright position.

"Justin!" she shouted, shaking him furiously. She thrust her body weight into his bony knees. Still no response. Kara took her hands off of his shoulders and resulted to the next known effective tactic - she slapped both of cheeks just hard enough to leave red marks.

Still Justin didn't respond.

Kara stood up and looked around the room until she saw his laptop. She walked over, pulled it up, and laid it on Justin's lap, angled slightly towards herself. After pressing a few buttons, the default media player came up. Kara selected the file from the list titled 'Justin's alarms' and pressed play. The sound of a foghorn blowing filled the room, but not as loudly as she had hoped. Kara realized then that she forgot to turn the volume up. She went to the computer's setting, switched the volume to full blast, and tried again. For thirty seconds the foghorn blew and Kara shook Justin as hard as she dared. Finally a sleepy hand grabbed her wrist and squeezed painfully. She let go of Justin's shoulders and tried to step back, but he was still gripping her.

"Justin, let go," Kara said. "I've gotta go shower."

For a second Justin merely clutched her wrist tighter, but then his hand fell away limply. Kara nudged his knee again to make sure that he was still awake before she turned and made her way back upstairs.

After showing, partially blow-drying her hair, and putting it up in a towel turban, Kara headed back downstairs and into the living room. Justin was lying on his stomach in front of the TV, watching the screen with morbid fascination.

"Come on," Kara prodded. "Get up."

"Kara," moaned Justin. "I'm tired."

"You have to get up Justin. We're gonna miss the bus," Kara prodded. "I'm gonna go pack up your lunch, okay? You should be in the shower by the time I get back."

As she left the room she couldn't help but turn to check on his progress a couple of times. He would kill her if they were late for school. He was twitching and mumbling incoherently, which Kara guessed was close enough to 'awake' to satisfy him.

Luckily, Justin was in a compliant mood that day. When Kara went back into the living room to check on him after placing his lunch in his bookbag, he was gone and she could hear the shower running. She smiled to herself. Thank heavens for small favors. She didn't know that she'd have been able to deal with Justin if he was on one of his sleeping binges.

While she waitied for him to finish his shower, Kara sat down on the couch and looked to the TV to see what Justin had been watching. The volume was on too low to fully make out what anyone was saying. It looked like a guy was being yelled at by a girl. The girl raised her hands to emphasize her point. The boy seemed to be yelling something back, but the girl ignored him and kept yelling. Kara watched the display, unable to fully comprehend what was happening. Slowly, her brain was numbing down. Her eyes came out of focus, and the screen in front of her blurred into a giant mass. It didn't make any difference to her; her eyelids were like lead. She needed sleep so badly...

"Hurry up!"

Kara jolted upwards. She'd narrowly avoided falling back into the couch cushions and the warm embrace of sleep. She pushed herself up quickly, refusing to allow her brain to find a reason for her to go back to sleep. For some reason the room started to spin, and Kara had to grab the arm of the couch to keep from falling to the floor.

"Hurry up," Justin called impatiently. Kara shut her eyes and covered them with her hand, and old trick she'd learned to fend off her dizzy spells. Keeping herself in that position, she nodded into her hand.

After counting to five, Kara inhaled and exhaled. She could practically feel Justin's frustration drifting over to her. Without pausing any further, Kara let her hand fall away. She slung both of their bags over her shoulders and darted across the room and into the small main hallway, where Justin was waiting halfway out the door. He eyed her with a brooding look as she stopped besides him and ignored her small smile by way of apology. Kara barely noticed. Justin wasn't much of a morning person; he was always like this.

While she was thinking that he pushed past her and through the door, holding it open just long enough for Kara to slip through. The sound of it slamming shut stirred up something in her skull, and Kara's headache returned full force.

Oh, god. It was going to be a terrible day.

-------

So far, Kara's prediction had been dead on.

By the time the bell rang for first period the throbbing in her head had become pounding. Her bag felt like it was full of lead when she put it onto her shoulders. Even her footsteps sounded like thunder to her ears. Justin didn't even bother to stop and see if she was okay before he'd disappeared to his first class.

But it was okay, Kara supposed. She wasn't in much of a social mood anyways.

When she got to her first period (computer science) she opened up her bookbag and realized that she'd forgotten her science textbook at the house. Great. She was going to have to share with Denise again.

For some reason her mistake just made her headache get worse. Kara could barely focus on what the instructor was saying. All of the lights in the room were freakishly bright, and it was burning her eyes. Her fingers seemed large and clumsy. Her typing was abhorrent. She couldn't make it through three sentences without a typo. A wave of frustration came over Kara momentarily, and for a second she thought of picking up the keyboard and smashing it down into her favored hand. However, she was too tired to hold onto that thought for long, and eventually just slumped forwards in seat and kept trying, correcting her mistakes as she noticed them.

When computer science ended (finally!) Kara had to drag herself out of the classroom. She was having trouble getting her feet on the ground. Inside the small, constricting hallway, she bumped into at least three people before stumbling into her second period class. The moment she sat down in her desk everything went dark. The next thing Kara could remember, everyone was standing and packing up their things.

"is it time to leave already?" She asked the person in the desk next to her. Her tongue felt like it was working with a mouthful of peanut butter, and she couldn't have sounded much more coherent.

The girl looked at her strangely.

"Yeah," she said, before she turned and abruptly powerwalked out of the classroom. Kara watched her go, still partially dazed.

Somehow she made it into the hallway. She was halfway to her locker before she realized that she needed to go to Justin's. She could borrow his science textbook for this period. By the time she turned around, the open classroom doors around her revealed that almost everyone was inside. Kara realized she was going to be late. She was almost never late, and the thought of ruining her record should have upset her. It would have, on any other day. But right then and there, she just couldn't make it matter to her. She'd deal with the repercussions after she'd gotten some sleep.

It took her three tries to open Justin's locker, and two to get the book in her bookbag. But once that was done, she mentally smiled at her work.

Justin wouldn't mind.

No, Justin wouldn't mind.

------

The rest of the day passed in a daze of pain and exhaustion. Kara could barely walk. Every class seemed exactly the same. Everyone was so goddamn loud! She just wanted to kill them all and fall into a deep, uninterrupted sleep.

As she grabbed the side of the stairs to her bus, Kara couldn't help but wonder what she'd done to deserve all this. She felt like a doll made of cement that was trying to move with no joints. All she could think about was laying down and giving her aching head a break. When she finally she stood in the aisles of her bus, her eyes scanned the seats for Justin. He was already there, strangely. Usually he waited around for her so that they could walk together. But there he was, sitting by Aaron Hollerman like he did it every day.

Wait. Something was wrong. Justin hated Aaron!

Kara stumbled forwards like a drunk, almost tripping twice in the first three feet. Her breathing was coming in labored gasps even though she wasn't exerting any actual force on herself. Inside her chest, her heart felt for some reason like it was pumping way too hard. Not too fast, just too forcefully. Her hand twitched at her side as contemplated placing her hand on her chest to try and see what her pulse was.

Oh well, she decided. It wasn't like there was anything she could do anyways.

The thought of moving towards Justin's seat, which was all the way at the back of the bus, definitely didn't appeal to Kara. She would see him when she got home. And besides, he clearly didn't want to sit next to her anyways. He probably wanted someone to talk about guy stuff with.

She flopped down into the nearest seat she could find and closed her eyes. For a few minutes she stayed awake, surrounded by the sounds of people laughing and talking and shifting around. Her brain couldn't comprehend what they were saying, and Kara couldn't bring herself to care. It was nothing. It was all nothing. It was static on the radio. The radio of life. It was nothing, just gossip and lies. Lies on the radio.

And that was her last thought before she drifted into a deep, dreamless slumber.

------

"Kara!"

Kara's eyes snapped open. She was slumped down in her bus seat with her head on her chest. Her eyes darted upwards for the sound of the voice. In doing so, she also subconciously tilted her head back, which was a bad idea. Her spine felt like it was being burned from the inside with even that simple move. She bit back a moan of pain.

Monique was sitting backwards and on her knees in her seat, the one just in front of Kara. She eyed her with a look of definite concern.

"Are you okay, Kara?" she asked Kara worriedly. Before she could think about it, Kara gave a small nod. In a single second her neck filled her with an intense pain which she hadn't felt in a long while, since she'd had to sleep on the floor in a sleeping bag every night after her family's third move.. Kara closed her eyes momentarily to stop any oncoming tears and held her breath for a second, hoping to distract from the burning.

"It's your stop," said Monique, sounding unsure. Kara opened her eyes and gave another small habitual nod.

Oh, dear god!

Standing up was awful. Every joint in Kara's body felt dry and brittle and stuck in one position. She couldn't seem to get her knees to unbend all the way. All she could focus on was the house, and the thought of the people waiting there. It would get better. Justin would make it better.

With that thought in mind, Kara hobbled down the aisle unsteadily. She took the stairs down the road cautiously leaned back, prepared to throw herself back onto the floor rather then fall on her face. Luckily she somehow didn't have to do either. Her feet touched the ground safely, and Kara almost wept with relief.

Up ahead, walking towards the house, Kara could see Justin. A wave of despair washed over her. Didn't he realize she was sick? She started forwards, ankles groaning in protest, not even noticing as the bus beside her let out a hiss and started to move again. All she wanted was to get home and sleep. Later she could talk to Justin. She hadn't really spoken to him all day, and she needed to hear his voice. Her eyes desperately watched his back as he grew farther from her. Kara despairingly knew she'd never be able to match his quick and adept pace, so she settled for continuing on slowly but steadily. She just had to make it home.

She just had to make it home.

Her heart thundered too hard in her chest again. Every couple of steps the haunting thought occurred to Kara that she was going to die here. In her head, she saw herself toppling off the road and into the ditch beside it. They'd find her the next day, dead before she even hit the bottom. Her heart wasn't working right; it was just going to stop. Right then and there, she was going to die.

But a part of Kara refused to believe it. She refused to allow herself to be recycled to a corpse in a ditch beside the road. She was more then that, wasn't she? It didn't have to happen to her, even if she deserved it. It was so simple, just one foot in front of the other. If she just focused on this, even if her heart burst Kara knew she would keep walking.

She had to make it home.

The sight of the house appearing and growing closer almost pushed Kara over the brink. She wanted to lay there and scream until someone came out to help, but that would be the same as dying in the ditch. Nobody in the house would hear her, and they wouldn't come looking until hours later. She pushed herself on, begging any god (any god at all) to give her the strength.

The feeling of the broken cement of the front walkway beneath her feet nearly did bring Kara to tears. It was too much. She was home, wasn't she? She'd survived after all. She was so grateful and yet so much in pain at the same time. She wanted wail in a mixture of overwhelming elation and suffering, just drop to her knees and yell to the heavens. Instead, Kara kept going. She wasn't there yet, but she would be.

Every step felt like running a mile. She was panting out loud now, mouth open. If her skin weren't cold and rubbery (at least that's how it felt to her) then Kara was sure she would be sweating. God, she felt so dead! It was almost impossible for her to raise her foot up onto the cement steps leading to the front door, but it was as though after a certain point, a deity with warm, soothing hands grabbed her leg and pulled it the rest of the way up. The same held true for the second and third step. Kara wasn't sure if the badly-painted white storm door had ever looked so welcoming. She pulled it open and allowed her weight to fall into the main door to minimize how far her aching wrist would have to turn. The door popped open, and a rush of cold stale air washed over Kara. Even as the familiar pressure of building tears (oh gods she was so grateful.) appeared behind her eyes, goosebumps appeared all over her skin.

Kara pushed herself into the house, using a hand on either side of the doorstep. The stormdoor drifted shut behind her, but the only thing she was aware of was the noise it made when it shut, which sounded loud to her pulsating ears. She swung the main door shut without thinking about it, and let her bag fall the ground just as loudly behind her. She moved forwards like a zombie, shuffling and wanting to die just to escape that suffering.

And oh, what suffering it was!

The stairs were at the end of the hallway, next to the door leading into the kitchen. Kara stared up them, weak mind unable to comprehend the problem. When she finally did she lurched forwards and for a second truly believed that she would tumble into the stairs in front of her and just surrender her life there.

There was no way she could make it up the stairs.

The hope, the elation, even the despair fell out of Kara. Her shoulders sagged as she could physically feel her LIFE melt into a puddle at her feet. She had almost given up hope entirely and granted her heart permission to stop beating inside of her when a golden idea seemed to instantly explode into her mind.

The shower!

On Kara's left in the main hallway was the door leading into Justin's small bathroom. She used it sometimes, but it was mainly for him. Well, now was an emergency, and she didn't really care. She had to get under the warm water and let it ease away her aches. If she did that she might be able to manage the stairs!

Barely conscious from the tiredness Kara's emotions had caused her, she shuffled ovenr and pulled the door out of the way. Not allowing her to think about the consequences (which there would be, of course. There were consequences for everything.) she brushed the door shut behind her and began to take off her shirt. The act took longer then it would have normally taken with her unable to fully raise her arms over her head in mixture of pain and lethargy. Finally, she'd gotten it off and it fell to the floor. She stood there, trying to gather her breath to remove her jeans, when the door burst open.

Justin stood in the doorway, glaring at her angrily. Not even giving her time to fully process her was there, he stalked forwards and grabbed Kara's arm violently.

"Ow!" cried Kara, and it sounded like whining even to her own ears. She hated herself for it. Justin got mad at her when she whined! "Justin, you're hurting me!"

"Two times," he said through clenched teeth. "That's two times in the past two days that you've cost me my grade."

"What are you...?" Kara began, confused. She mentally sifted through the day's events, trying to figure out what she'd done to provoke him.

"You took my science textbook!" Jason yelled, shaking Kara. Her head snapped back, and for a second she saw only darkness.

The very moment that darkness lifted from her, a realization unfolded in her mind. Had she put Justin's textbook back after she borrowed it?

It had been in her bookbag at lunch.

Oh, god.

Something inside of Kara collapsed. She stood there, staring with faint traces of horror at Justin. She wanted to apologize, but she felt like she was locked inside of herself. She couldn't work her mouth or anything. She was frozen there there, limp and at his mercy.

"Why do you keep freaking doing this to me?" Justin yelled. He shook her really hard this time, and Kara flapped like a ragdoll. "I told you not eo touch my stuff! I told you! Why the hell are you always doing this to me! I do everything for you, everything! I'm everything to you! Why do you keep doing this!?"

Kara's tongue seemed to fall back into her throat. Slowly, her mind was dying. Her eyes glazed over as some primal protective instinct kicked in, refusing to allow her to hear this and be broken by it. Not now.

"Can't you even say you're sorry!?!" Justin was screaming now. He shook her, furious, but then a change seemed to come over him. Almost like he had been touching something that was diseased, he let go of Kara quickly and pushed her away.

What happened next, Kara didn't know. She felt herself go through the shower door, but there was no pain. The glass broke easily and soundlessly, just collapsing beneath her. She hit the shower floor, but again there was no pain. The cold shot through her, chilling her to the core without hurting her. She laid there and stared up at the ceiling. What had just...?

"Oh my god!" Justin's voice brought Kara back into her body. He sounded hysterical. She somehow couldn't move to sit up and look at him, so she stayed looking up and prayed that he would come into her line of vision. "Look what you made me do! You bitch! YOU BITCH!"

The sound of Justin's footsteps as he ran out of the bathroom didn't wake Kara; it was the sound of the door slamming that caused her to finally blink. For a second she mentally went over everything that just happened.

And then there was pain.

The emotional pain was far worse than the physical pain. Kara rolled onto her side, clutching her stomach to stop the cramp that always seemed to come when she was upset. More glass cut into her skin, but all she could feel was it's frigidness.

The past year and a half of Kara's life played through her mind. It was all Justin, her holding hands with Justin, Justin buying her ice cream, Justin telling her he loved her, Justin getting jealous, Justin fighting with her, Justin letting her move in with him, Justin. She'd built her life around him. He'd told her that he loved her. He loved her so much that he'd do anything for her. Name it, and he would do it for her. She was beautiful, perfect, and he'd never let anyone else have her.

Justin doesn't love me anymore, Kara thought, and if her battered body could have cried she would have sobbed.

This was the end. He'd placed himself at the center of her life and she'd made him the foundation of everything. She'd made HIM her life. And now if he didn't want her anymore, hated her so much he almost killed her, then what could she do? There was nothing left anymore; Justin had told her that he would be all she needed; everything else would only try to steal her away. She created a world... No, HE created it. He built a world where it was just her and him. And now how could Kara live without him? He was all she needed, but he had thrown her away.

Her numb arm reached out and plucked, from the debris of glass covering and surrounding her, a particularly large shard. Justin didn't love her anymore. Tears welled up in Kara's eyes as she pressed it to her wrist. He was her world; she didn't know how to be alive anymore and there was no one to help her. Blood oozed down her cuts.

This was the end.

-----

"And you mean to tell us that your girlfriend provoked you so badly that you HAD to push her through a glass door?" The district attorney, a firm, angular woman by the name of Delores Haubane bored her stony gaze into him.

"I told you, I have anger issues," Justin snapped. His hand twitched at his side. He could feel the eyes of everyone in the court watching him.

"I see," said Delores. "Your girlfriend, who, at the time of her death, was clearly very sick, provoked you into harming her. She was baiting you, in other words. This sixteen year old girl, long since weakened by her battle with anorexia and manic depression, provoked you so badly that you HAD to do it. You just couldn't help it."

Justin went rigid in his seat.

"Sh-she was anorexic?" he sputtered. The room around him seemed to begin to spin. He rested his hand on his forehead, trying to gather his thoughts. That explained why she never ate, why she spent so much time in the bathroom after she did eat, and why she was so weak all the time. He had noticed, but he'd chalked it up to 'woman issues.' How could he have not realized? "I didn't know. God I didn't know."

-----

For a long while Emily just sat there, staring ahead in blank faced silence. Beside her, Vinnie eyed her with something akin to disbelief, very close to horror, and definitely containing some enlightenment. Somehow it explained a lot, a lot she hadn't told him and a lot he'd worried about, thinking that she didn't love him or that he was the problem. He watched her silently, not knowing how to respond.

"She was one of my best friends," said Emily suddenly, voice cracking. She leaned forwards, and Vinnie could tell from her stance that she was fighting sobs. "I was Amelia. I loved Kara! I wanted to help her but I couldn't. I failed. I screwed up."

For a second she convulsed like she was trying to keep from breaking down. Then she spoke up in a voice that was fractionally calmer.

"He just thought she was worthless. He treated her like she was nothing to him."

A wave of sympathy flooded over Vinnie. He wanted to reach out and put his arms around Emily, but he didn't know how she'd react to that. So instead he stayed put, not taking his eyes off of her.

She pulled her head up, and her face looked terrible. Most of her skin was deathly white, but area where her cheeks and forehead met her hairline was red, as was the tip or her nose and the underside of her chin. She was visibly trembling like a leaf. Even her jaw was rattling. Vinnie was mildly surprised her couldn't hear her teeth chatter.

"I guess I've always been afraid of that happening to me," Emily said, like someone trying to laugh off a bad experience. "It's not that I think you're like that Vinnie. You're not, I know that. It's just... So scary. It happened. It happens. It happens all the time, everywhere. And there's no one who can stop it or save them. It's so scary. I keep thinking that it could be me. I might wind up like that. You're not like that Vinnie, you're not. But it could happen. It DID happen. I'm afraid that someone will come along and tell me to build my life around them and then just rip away like I'm a worthless piece of trash. I'm so scared Vinnie. So scared."

She paused momentarily, and a single small tear seemed to burst from her eye suddenly.

"Today is the anniversary of her death."

She let her face fall into her knees again. She seemed to be crying, but it was impossible to tell because she didn't make a sound.

The next time Emily spoke, it was with a steady voice.

"You can leave me now," she said to her legs. "It's fine. I understand. No boy wants a girl who's afraid. I'll understand even if you do, Vinnie. I don't want to cling to you. I don't want to drag you down with me."

She paused and inhaled a shaky breath.

"You can leave me, Vinnie," she said. "You deserve better."

Her voice broke at the end of the statement, even though she didn't start to cry again.

Vinnie just sat there and watched her emotionlessly. His eyes betrayed no thoughts or feeling. He didn't make any move to help her.

They stayed like that for what would later seem like weeks. Eventually Emily looked up, and her eyes fell on Vinnie. They were full of love and pain and above all, understanding. Vinnie continued to stare back at her with his stone gaze.

Suddenly he moved. His hand reached out and grabbed onto Emily's arm gently. Using his other hand, he pushed himself as far onto his feet as he could go without jerking her up. A second later Emily stood shakily on her own, staring into Vinnie's face and trying to read him. She couldn't understand what was happening. Was she being left? She didn't think it would be like this. Was he just giving her a ride home?

Vinnie tugged gently on her arm, and she followed him compliantly, refusing to look at the truck. It was as though if she did, it would make her suspicion right, and Vinnie really was just going to take her home and then leave her. But to her partial relief and partial bafflement they walked right past it without even a sideways glance from him. Instead, they continued on to the main entrance of the quik mart. Vinnie tried to open the door for Emily but she was too fast, pulling it open by a force of habit and looking up at him as though telling him to go first. She still couldn't understand what was going on, but she knew for certain that Vinnie had a plan.

He went in and 'helped' her through the door carefully. The bell that hung above the entrance rang loudly, but both of them ignored it. Vinnie helped her over to the left, which was a large sideways ice-cream freezer full of popsicles and cones and all manner of frozen dairy dipped in chocolate. Emily stared at it noncomprehendingly and then tilted her head to look up at Vinnie, confused. Vinnie's response was to gesture towards the freezer. She turned back around at it, suddenly knowing what he meant. He wanted her to buy something. She opened the sliding door and reached for a Weight Watchers raspberry popsicle when Vinnie carefully pulled her wrist back. He pointed towards the small section in the back full of pre-frozen ice-cream dipped in chocolate and nuts. Blinking, Emily complied with his apparent wish and selected it.

That done, Vinnie turned and led her to the counter at the end of the store. The cashier, a rat-like man named Elmer, studied them curiously. Like everyone else in the tiny township, he'd heard of the 'odd couple' Emily and Vinnie, but this was his first time seeing them in person.

Vinnie laid the dessert down on the counter, and Elmer rang it up, not taking his eyes off of them the entire time. Emily stared ahead, tired and emotionally devastated. As the small outward-facing screen attached to the register flashed the price, her hand instinctively rose to her pocket. A second later she nearly let out a tired sigh. Somehow, the fact seemed to fit.

"I left my money in my backpack," Emily whispered up to Vinnie, tilting her head to look up at his face, praying she wouldn't see any frustration or resentment.

Vinnie shook his head at her. He made a quick motion to Elmer like someone scrawling on a piece of paper. Elmer pulled open a drawer in front of him (still not taking his eyes off of the two) and rooted around in there momentarily before coming up with a pen and a roll of unused receipt paper. Vinnie quickly scrawled something down and handed it back. Elmer reluctantly tore his eyes away from the taller man and looked down at it.

Collect payment from John Downrid.

"That's fine," said Elmer, looking back up quickly like he was afraid he'd missed something. "He'll be by in a couple days for milk anyways. Are you sure you want him to pick up the bill?"

Vinnie nodded.

Without any further acknowlegement towards the cashier, Vinnie picked up the ice cream and lightly pulled Emily's arm, which he was still holding almost like he was trying to keep her from wandering off. He lead her out of the store and into the parking lot while Elmer stared at their retreating back. The cheerful sound of the bells above the door was the only thing to distract from the silence.

As they walked, Emily was watching Vinnie hold the dessert in his enormous fist, slightly surprised. Had Vinnie told her to pick it out for him? She'd never seen him eat ice cream before. Of course, he probably did (who doesn't eat ice cream?) but it still seemed strange that a large, intimidating (well, to most people at least) giant like he would be eating such a colorfully-wrapped children's treat.

As they approached the truck Vinnie let go of Emily's arm and pulled open the driver's side door. Taking the hint, Emily went to the other side and climbed into the passenger's seat. The minute she had pulled the door shut Vinnie reached out the hand that was holding the ice cream and held it in front of her. For a second Emily just looked at it like it was an alien object, not understanding. Then it became clear to her.

"Oh!" she said out loud, a bit of her old personality showing through her lachrymose mask. "Thank you!"

She took it from him and unwrapped it with nimble fingers. Vinnie waited until she was settled in before he put the keys in the ignition and started the engine. He navigated the car back onto the bumpy road towards home, still not trying to speak with her. The first ten minutes of the car ride passed in relative silence until Emily finally couldn't take it anymore. Looking at her ice cream, she spoke up.

"Are you breaking up with me?" she asked quietly.

Vinnie didn't respond.

"I need to know," she sighed. "I can't bear to wait. Please tell me."

Keeping his eyes on the road, Vinnie shook his head.

"No, you're not breaking up with me?" asked Emily. Her voice was saturated with a mixture of hope and disbelief.

Vinnie shook his head.

"You are breaking up with me?" Emily sounded crestfallen.

Vinnie shook his head again.

"You aren't breaking up with me?" Joy seeped back into her voice.

Vinnie nodded.

This time Emily didn't even ask. She leaned over and into Vinnie's shoulder, giving him a small awkward hug and inhaling his soothing scent. Vinnie didn't respond, but his hands did twitch on the driving wheel.

"Thank you Vinnie," Emily whispered lovingly. She pulled herself off of him and sat normally in her seat. By some miracle she hadn't gotten ice cream on him. "I love you."

Something did a summersault in Vinnie. She'd said that she loved him before, but this was the first time she'd sounded so serious. Her voice held almost a reverent note, like she was truly sitting there and adoring him. He missed a breath and took an extra deep one to make up for it.

When Vinnie next looked over, Emily was done with her ice cream and had set the stick on the dashboard wrapped up a piece of scrap paper. She was wearing a gold chain around her neck and fiddling with something on it, a golden band. It looked quite familiar...

Vinnie gestured in front of her face, jerking his wrist briefly towards the chain and then towards the dashboard. Emily looked over at him and smiled her usual radiant smile.

"Oh, it's the ring you gave me," she said. "I always wear it around my neck."

Happiness welled up inside of Vinnie, as well as confusion. He briefly tilted his head to one side.

"Well, it doesn't fit around my finger," said Emily matter of factly.

And he'd been so concerned for nothing. Vinnie wanted to throw back his head and laugh a good-natured laugh of irony.


Author's notes: Before the vague wondering starts, no, I'm not discontinuing Steeple.

I've had this bouncing around in my head for a while. It was Vinnie and his girlfriend, Vinnie and his girlfriend (who I didn't name till I'd started writing) for the longest time. I became hopelessly attached to them, and I started to plan out their entire saga before I even sat down in front of my keyboard!

Vinnie is an interesting name for a country boy, I noticed. But for some reason I had this vision in my head of a pretty girl rocking on her heels playfully and swinging the hand of a giant boy behind her and saying, 'Well, Vinnie, we've almost got 'em.' I don't know who or what they're talking about, but once the image popped into my head it was impossible to get rid of. I picture the girl to look like this one chick on the cover of one of my Mother's movies My Cousin Vinnie. Lo and behold, they're cousins through marriage (I just realized that as I typed this) and his name is Vinnie. It just seems too masculine for a girl. I suppose, logically, his full name is Vincent, but a playful girl like Emily would call him Vinnie.

I guess this is what one would call an 'unconventional romance story.' The main character is a kind but quiet giant (even though I made him up, I know a guy who's sort of like that. They're different, and Vinnie's personality doesn't really match this guy's, but I wonder if he originally helped me characterize him?) and the secondary main character is an energetic girl who hates feeling like she's dragging others down. Emily is sort of like me, but also different. She's much more social adept and has a lot more energy. I think I took a few of my traits and a few I want and mixed them up with the flaws I both have and think would sort of balance out her personality and viola, it's Emily.

I didn't mean for her to seem weak. I really hope she didn't come across as a stupid, ditzy, unaffectionate or spineless girl. I think her sincere emotions for Vinnie made her want to protect him from everything, including herself.

When I had this planned out it was supposed to be much shorter and focus more on Kara and Justin than Emily and Vinnie. But I had to explain them, and explanations turned into complex tales of their own, and from there a star (hopefully) is born!

What has to be said: I wrote this sort of 'about' a couple I know. They are 'Kara' and 'Justin.' Those aren't actually their names (although I know a boy named Justin who's guts I hate), but their personalities are similar. It was weird, but at the same time meant to be. Shortly after I started on this, their relationship ended horribly. My sympathy lies with 'Kara.'

When that happened I knew that I chose this particular time to start writing (I could have waited and indefinitely long period of time) because something just planned it out to work that way. I currently don't have any plans to give it to 'Kara', but I hope she someday stumbles across it. Who knows; weirder things have happened.

Well, that's really it. I just chattered on WAAAYY too much as it is. I'm talkative.

Drop a review, s'il vous plait, and tell me what you think. I love to hear from people!