"You're mental."

I know, that wasn't very nice of me to say, especially because his uncle has schizophrenia, but really, Richard deserves it. And no, I'm not just saying that to justify my childish behavior, because Richard is kidnapping me.

Okay, so he's my boyfriend. And he's only taking me to my old neighborhood because he wants to meet my dad and step mom, so my life isn't in danger or anything. But he's forcing me to go.

Not that I don't like my dad and Carol or anything. I totally love them, and I actually do want to take a break from the city and volunteer work at the animal shelter and go back to my quiet suburb and catch up with all my old friends whom I haven't seen since we left for college.

But there's just this thing. Actually, there are two things.

Well, first of all, I don't want to do any of this with Richard because Richard and I are going in opposite directions. I'm planning on breaking up with him, and he wants to take everything to the next level. Now, I really don't know how to break it to him, since he's very thickheaded and likes to think that I'm scared of how much I love him, which I don't, by the way. Love Richard Duval, I mean.

And, now here's the real issue. Because the parent thing isn't so bad. I wouldn't have been freaking out so much if Richard was kidnapping me and taking me to see my mom and her girlfriend, Linda (yes, my mom is a lesbian and she left my dad for another woman. Get over it already, people). But back in my old neighborhood is . . . a certain someone who I planned on never seeing again.

Two words: Will Brady aka gorgeous, blonde haired, blue eyed, six-foot-infinity tall hunk who I may or may not have dated at one time.

And we ended on really bad terms. Like, so bad that I'm sure when he sees me, he's going to stab me in the eye. More than once. Probably eight times, because that's his favorite number (and also because Richard is Will's cousin). But honestly, I had to break up with him. Our relationship was getting out of control, so I just put an end to it before things got really messy.

He didn't take it too well though.

But that's only because he didn't see what was happening. I saw, and I didn't like what was happening, not one bit.

"Oh, you know you love me, Izzy," Richard says, laughing heartily.

You know, maybe I could love Richard if he stopped calling me Izzy. No one calls me Izzy, except my dad when he gets really sentimental, and you can't really rebuke someone who's trying really hard not to cry. Richard just calls me Izzy when he's trying to joke around with me, which is quite often.

We've been driving for what seems like hours (but really is only around twenty minutes). This is another reason why I want to break up with Richard. He's boring, as in his idea of a wild night is not reading his organic chemistry textbook like he does every other night and watching a horror movie.

But at least his car is nice. It's hot out, but his shiny new Nissan Altima has really good air conditioning. See, if I was still going out with Will, we'd be riding in his rusty red (although it looks more orange because it's so old and the paint is chipping) pick-up truck. We'd be lucky if the windows rolled down in that thing. It should really be illegal to have a vehicle that's such a menace to the well-being of our environment.

Finally, we pull up in front of my house, and I'm filled with sentimental feelings as Richard parks the car. And they're not making me feel very well. Because as I look at my white house with its garden of overflowing roses and azaleas and other pretty flowers that I can't name, I see the giant oak tree where I used to make out with Will, and I remember that somewhere on that tree our names are carved into the bark, so it will forever read (unless some anti-environment jerk chops it down and makes it into paper) 'Will + Belle forever.' And Will was really sweet about it too. He took out the extra time to write out the word 'forever' instead of making it look tacky and writing 'Belle + Will 4eva.' And those '4evas' don't mean anything. I know, because in the fourth grade, Bradley Hanson wrote our names in the mud with a '4eva' and we broke up after three days.

And it's not only the tree. Because I also see my porch (which is one of those really pretty wrap around porches), where we used to sit on the porch swing, and I would sip pina coladas (without the alcohol, of course) and Will would sip strawberry daiquiris (again, without alcohol – Will was always making pina coladas and strawberry daiquiris because his uncle was a bartender in college). Then we'd always talk, and not about stupid things like sports and hair and the weather. We would argue about black holes (I am positive that when you go through a black hole, you find a different solar system with another planet Earth, but Will stubbornly thinks that you just die – how uncreative) and the best superpower to have (I say super speed, hands down, because if you don't like your situation, you can always run away; but Will says mind-reading is the best) and what you would do if a madman came up to you this instant and shoved a gun in your face (Will said he would punch the guy in the balls. I pointed out that that would be a perfect time for super speed).

I'm not too sure why I feel sort of sick whenever I think about Will and all the good times we had together, but I don't think I want to know why, either. I look for something else that won't remind me of him when my front door opens and a ball of yellow fur bounds down the steps and onto the lawn.

"Lance!" I cry, and run out of the car. Lance, my golden retriever, runs over to me happily with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Lance can always make me feel better. He's like a tub of ice-cream, except you can't eat him (god, how morbid would that be?) and you never have to buy more of him.

"Well, I think we know who Bellie loves most now," I look up towards the front door when I hear my dad's voice, and see his arm wrapped around Carol's waist.

I roll my eyes and smile. "Dad," I say, as I go to hug him, then my step mom.

Carol touches some of my blonde hair. I bet it's because it looks so shiny. Pantene really is quite amazing.

"You're letting your hair grow," she points out.

"Oh, yeah, I am," I say. I originally had it shoulder length, but then Richard kept saying that he loved short hair, so in defiance, I decided to grow it out. Yeah, I can be annoying like that.

"It was so sad when you hacked it all off," she says sounding a little sad.

Then I get a little sad, but not because she sounds sad, but because I remember the reason why I hacked off all of my hair. Let's just say it has to do with a certain male.

"Have you talked to Will lately?" she asks, trying to sound casual, but failing miserably.

"You mean Will Brady, my cousin?" Richard asks curiously, as he stops playing with Lance and snakes his arms around my waist.

"Mhm," Carol says nodding her head.

"You two went out once, right?" Richard asks me, as if Will and I had been a summer fling.

"Yes," I say, nodding stiffly.

"Thought so," he says brightly. "I could have sworn he was going to have a mini-heart attack at Christmastime when I told him you're my girlfriend."

"You told him?" I ask, panicking.

Bewildered, Richard goes, "I didn't know I wasn't supposed to," except it comes out more as a question than a statement.

I realize that I'm acting strangely, and I don't miss Carol nudging my dad whispering, "I told you so!" so then I flick some hair over my shoulder indifferently and go, "You can tell him anything you want. I don't care. He is your cousin, after all."

Richard stares at me for a moment as if I'm about to start foaming at the mouth and brandishing a sword at his throat. "Are you all right?"

I swallow and blink at him. "Fine."

"Er, right," Richard says, still looking at me in that same way. "Anyway, Will is back in town, too. Why don't we call him? I haven't seen him in awhile."

It's official. Richard really is mental. Either that or he has it out for me.

"Oh!" Carol gasps happily. "We'll invite him for dinner!"

"Uh, actually, I'm a bit tired . . . maybe he could come over another time?" you know, in the next thousand years or so, I add silently in my head.

"Oh, but I made pasta tonight, and you know I always put in too much," Carol says, already walking inside to the phone.

I don't make any other attempts because Carol is already talking to Will on the phone, and by the sound of it, she's not taking no for an answer.

"Excellent, we'll see you at six!" she chirps before turning to Richard and me. "Now, you two, come on, only twenty minutes before he gets here, set the table!"

We start bustling around in the kitchen and dining room while my dad decides to sneak out and watch more television (really, thanks Dad, for all the help. You really defended me out there. I thought I was your little girl) and just as we set down the last of the plates, the doorbell rings and Will is standing at the door.

Will smiles uncertainly at us. "Hello."

"Will!" Carol coos. "Sit down, sit down," she says. He sits (incidentally directly across from me so now I can't look up without impersonating the fire hydrant outside that Lance loves pissing on) while Carol dumps spaghetti onto his plate.

After a painfully awkward silence, my dad, ever tactful, goes, "So, how about those Yanks, huh?"

I hope my dad remembers I want to be cremated, because there's no way I'll survive this dinner.

Okay, I lied. I'm still alive.

Dinner was practically torture though. I was very tempted to just rip the shoelaces out of Will's Converse (not Richard's, because Richard's shoelaces are all muddy, while Will's are just a bit of an off-white color) and hang myself from the chandelier. At least they would have had something to talk about.

When it was finally over, I breathed a sigh of relief, but I was evidently in a false sense of security, because a second before everyone stood to take the plates to the sink, Carol exclaimed that Will should stay and take a dip in the pool before leaving. She practically dragged everyone over and threw them in the pool, but I hastily wrestled out of her grasp, mollifying her only when I told her I was merely going to change.

I hop down the stairs two at a time in a navy blue bikini. Right at the bottom, I almost bump straight into Will.

"Sorry," I say, quickly averting my eyes.

"We need to talk," Will says, grabbing my hand before I could run off.

I stare at him, yanking my hand away. "We talked at dinner. So, if you don't mind, I'm going to go swim –"

"Are you really dating Richard?" Will interrupts, as if I hadn't said anything at all.

"Yes," I say snidely. He doesn't have to know that I don't even like Richard like that.

Will closes his eyes, and then, with his eyes still closed, he asks, "Do you love him?"

"None of your business."

Then his eyes flutter open, and I'm almost overtaken by the intensity of his gaze. But I remind myself that I don't care about Will Brady. "You don't, do you?"

I stare at him defiantly in response. Because he's totally right, but I don't want him to have that satisfaction. Besides, what does he think, that I'll get back together with him? Uh, no thank you.

"Why did you break up with me?" he demands.

"You're not the boss of me," I say childishly.

I know, how mature. But really, I don't want Will looking at me when I'm all exposed and he's all comfortable in his t-shirt and shorts. So, I'm evading the issue now.

"God," Will says, sounding frustrated, "you haven't changed at all, have you?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" I demand.

"You never talk to me," he says, shaking my shoulders a little.

Well, how do expect me to concentrate when you have your really warm hands on my shoulders, sending tingles shooting down all the way to my toes??

But I don't tell him that. I would rather dunk my head into a pile of elephant poop first. Besides, why is he making me tingly? I don't like him anymore.

I step back so his hands fall from my shoulders and go, really impatiently, "You want to talk? Fine, spit it out already!"

"Tell me why you broke up with me."

Okay, I probably should have set up some guidelines there. I don't want to talk about that. It makes me want to start crying. And I look really gross when I cry. God, couldn't he have wanted to talk about, I don't know, the weather or something bland like that?

So, to successfully evade his question, I lie and go, "Because you're ugly, next question."

I really have to grow up here.

"Oh my god!" he roars in frustration. "Could you be serious for five seconds?"

"Um, no."

He's going to kill me. It's official. I am so infuriating, and he's going to get so frustrated that he's just going to kill me. I don't blame him. I don't know how he even went out with me. I mean, I'm emotionally retarded (as my mom so eloquently put it), I'm really annoying, and I can get really insecure. When we were going out, Will had to assure me, for like twenty minutes straight, that he was not into incest and that he wouldn't date his second cousin just because he could have a competitive game of basketball with her (unlike me, where I usually just started running around with the ball so that Will couldn't score anymore).

But it's not really my fault. Will is the one being difficult and bringing up things from so long ago (a year is a really long time, okay?). He's forcing me to evade the situation, and when I evade things, my brain just stops thinking and goes into auto pilot, aka irritatingly sarcastic and rude.

Then he goes, sounding sort of frustrated, "I don't even know why I bother with you."

Then I get really angry. Because he just basically told me that I'm not worth his trouble. That I'm not worthy of him. Okay, buddy, I don't even want you anymore. Really, I don't.

So I get right in his face, although I'm not very intimidating since Will is really tall. But it doesn't matter because my anger makes up for it. I feel very tough, like I should start puffing my chest out. But I don't, because then I'd be touching him, that's how close I am. And my brain, even the auto pilot part, just sort of fizzles out when I touch him.

"I don't know why you do either," I say coldly. But he's not even looking at me, he's looking down. Huh, I didn't think I was that intimidating. Oh, wait, I think he's looking at my lips. "We're over; we've been over, so stop acting like a little girl and move on already."

Will looks at me inscrutably for a moment. Then he stares at me with those penetrating blue eyes so intensely that I feel like his eyes are two swirling whirlpools, sucking me in mercilessly. "We were never over," he says, his voice low and raw.

But before I can retort, his lips are crashing down on mine, and he's kissing me.

And I'm not stopping it.

If anything, I'm egging him on. I keep running my fingers through his hair, and then down his arms, which are around my waist, and back up to his hair again. And then his tongue is in my mouth, and I don't like it.

I love it.

Oh my god, I have problems! I have a boyfriend (who I was going to break up with anyway, but still, he's my boyfriend and right now I am cheating on him with his cousin – really, how low can I get?), and I'm kissing my ex-boyfriend, and I'm loving the feeling of his tongue in my mouth.

We start blindly moving together, a tangle of legs and arms and lips locked together. We head for a wall, but miscalculate by a few inches because as Will is pushing me towards the wall, my hip bumps into the end table where Carol's dog's urn sits, and it goes crashing to the ground. The noise brings me back to reality, so I yank my fingers from his hair and shove hard against his chest.

"No," I murmur, as I lean down to inspect the damage. The blue mosaic urn is cracked into large chunks but it's obviously irreparable. To make things even worse, the ashes of Carol's dead dog lie scattered across the hardwood floor of my living room. Great, there's dead dog all over the floor! "She's going to kill me!"

I run to get a broom and start hastily sweeping up the ashes into a dust pan.

"Go," I command Will, who's just standing around and looking startled. "Look in the back of the glass cabinet. She keeps the expensive vases in there so no one can break them. Try to find a blue one."

I quickly avert my eyes when he turns around because his hair is sticking up from where I ran my fingers through. I feel a blush creeping up on my cheeks, but my embarrassment is quickly replaced with panic when I hear the back door open and Carol calling out to Will and me.

"In a minute, we're coming!" I yell, as Will runs back over with a blue vase.

It's narrower and taller than the urn and the blue of the vase is a bit lighter, but if you don't study it, you can't really tell that it's different. He quickly pulls off the top and I dump the ashes inside carefully.

"What's taking you two so long?" Carol asks, sounding a little suspicious.

"Uh, nothing, we'll be there in five minutes!" I say, but I hear her come into the house and head for the living room.

"What do we do with the pieces?" Will whispers frantically.

I look around, eyes wide. Who cremates their dogs anyway? God, Carol is so weird.

"Under the couch," I whisper, grabbing up some pieces and sweeping them under the suede seating.

Will grabs the rest and quickly follows. I run back to the scene of the crime where there are still some ashes visible. I shuffle my feet around in her dead dog to hide the evidence. Will quickly pulls himself up and sits on the couch, while I keep moving my feet around to spread out the remaining ashes as Carol walks in.

"Aren't you two going to go swim?" she asks, looking between the two of us.

I nod my head enthusiastically. "Yeah, I told you we were coming. We were just –"

"-Resting," Will interjects. "I, uh, stubbed my toe the other day."

Carol looks at him dubiously, so I quickly jump in, "And I stepped on it accidentally."

"So, it started to hurt. Badly," he adds, pouting a little.

"Really badly," I say nodding solemnly. "So I told him to rest –"

"–On your really comfy couch –"

"I wanted to give him a full five minutes –"

"–To avoid major bruising, of course –"

"So," I say, grinning brightly. "Here we are."

Carol stares at us for a few more moments. "Okay," she says, still looking at us, obviously doubting our story. "You want some ice for your toe?"

"Uh, no," Will says, looking a little shifty. "I should go, actually, before it, uh, starts to, um, swell. So . . . thanks for dinner Mrs. Chambers!"

Will gives me a look as he fake limps away and mouths We need to talk.

"Feel better," I say brightly before turning away.

I feel a bit like spewing my guts into a toilet because I have a funny feeling that what he wants to talk about doesn't have to deal with the ruined urn.

I walk into the kitchen and my sneakers squeak a little, so I inadvertently alert anyone in the kitchen of my presence.

"A little early for your seven o'clock run, isn't it?" Carol asks quietly, as she sits at the island in our kitchen. See, and she got to act all cool about it too. She didn't even turn around, because she knew it was me!

I shrug noncommittally as I walk around the island to face her. She doesn't have to know why.

"You can't avoid him forever, you know." Apparently, she already does.

"I'm not avoiding him," I say coolly.

"He's been dating girls like crazy since you left," she points out.

"Well," I say flippantly, "we're over, so, I don't really care."

Because I don't. My chest is not burning in anger right now. That's just . . . heartburn. An early onset, because college is very stressful. I don't care about Will and his stupid relationships. I don't care one bit. And for the record, I especially don't care about that stupid, meaningless kiss last night. Just so you know.

Carol doesn't say anything, but she flips her cell phone, which she had been holding open while we were talking, closed. Weird. I didn't know she even had one. Whatever. I turn and walk out the door, and begin jogging lightly.

I don't even know why I care so much if Will sees me again. So what if he tries to stab me? I can always outrun him. And if he does stab me, I'll just sic Richard on him. Besides, Will wouldn't resort to violence (he would just rather molest me with his lips – really, I was unprepared for that. Had I been expecting it, I would have poked him in the eye. I was just caught off guard). Whenever his dog, Maggie, would bark too much, he would only shout her name angrily, and right after he would start petting her and apologizing to her for being so mean. The worst he'll do is give me a death glare. And I have a much more impressive glare than he does, so I will come out on top. He had just better keep his stupid lips to himself.

My run is peaceful and calming, and it helps me stop worrying about Will. I'm feeling really happy and pretty confident as I run through the forest-y park about a mile from my house, until I see it. Or him, rather.

A murderer.

Okay, so I don't know for sure if the guy's a murderer or not, but he's sitting on a park bench at the crack of dawn with his head in his hands looking pretty stressed. So the guy is probably not one of those crazy murderers. I bet he just killed his girlfriend or whatever by accident. Maybe they were just innocently cooking and then he was walking with a knife (to cut up some wholesome veggies, of course), and he tripped and the knife landed in her heart. Or maybe he went mental because the voices in his head told him to cut open his girlfriend and eat her innards.

And now, he's realized what he's done and he's really guilty. Maybe he's contemplating suicide. Should I stop and talk him out of it? Even if he is a murderer (though it was only once)? Unless it was more than one time. I mean, I don't even know this guy. What if he just waits around in parks for morons like me to go running past? Oh my god, he's going to kill me. And now Richard thinks I love him, and he's going to tell everyone that I love Richard Duval! I don't want Will to think I love a know-it-all loser (who can be kind of sweet at times, albeit a little pushy) like his cousin!

Wait. I don't care what Will thinks about me or my love life.

Whatever, I have bigger problems here, as in, my life (or this guy's life) is in danger here! I'm going to stop. I have to talk him out of suicide, because it's not the only way! I'm sure Mr. Guilty Bench can get a good lawyer and everything will be okay. If I hear that he killed himself and I know that I could have stopped it, well then I just might go and kill myself.

Then again, this could just be a trap. What if he practices looking all guilty and pitiful, just so saps like me will go to him willingly? No, no, Belle, be brave. Be brave, and save this man's life!

Oh my god, Mr. Guilty Bench just looked at me from the corner of his eye. He's waiting for me to get closer. Okay, he's definitely psycho. There is no help for him. Just don't make eye contact. Look straight ahead – oh man, I just looked. I hope he didn't notice.

Okay, I don't think he did. Now, just keep running, and looking straight ahead, and maybe he won't bother you. Okay, it's working, he's not looking, he's just – he's reaching out for my arm! HE'S REACHING OUT FOR MY ARM!!!!

Oh, god, his fingers are curling around my arm, and I'm getting pulled back. He's going to saw me open and eat my innards too. LET GO, MR. GUILTY BENCH! I KNOW YOUR SECRETS!!!!

I start to struggle and kick out at him, but then he speaks.

"What the hell is the matter with you?" he asks.

Oh. Mr. Guilty Bench isn't a murderer. It's only my ex-boyfriend, Will Brady.

This isn't much better.

I stare at him, breathing heavily (not that he has some kind of effect on me anymore. I was running, for Pete's sake). And then, I explode. (Not literally, of course. But I kind of want to because it would be a whole lot easier than dealing with him.)

"What the hell is the matter with me?!" I ask rhetorically. I'm sort of whisper-screaming, which sounds weird, but really, who starts shouting at six in the morning in a park? No one, that's who. "What the hell is the matter with you?"

"You haven't answered my question," Will responds casually, and I know he's referring to last night (and not the urn, either. I think he should pay half, so I can go out and buy a new one. It is partly his fault, anyway).

His indifference only furthers my anger. "Would you let it go already?" I demand, stamping my foot childishly. "Why do you even want to know?"

"Because I know," Will says, a bit cautiously, "that you still care –"

"Care?" I laugh loudly and mirthlessly with no regard for indoor voices anymore. "About what? You?"

He takes a small step forward, as if quick movements would scare me away, as if I'm some kind of frightened animal. "Belle, I know that you're –"

"How can you know anything about me? Have you achieved your greatest ambition and acquired mind reading powers then?" I ask mockingly. "I told you to back off. Stop acting like you know what I'm thinking, because you don't. So just leave me alone already, because contrary to what you seem to believe, I don't care about you anymore."

Then, to add insult to injury, I eye him critically and sneer, "And I don't think I ever did."

Hm. Maybe I should have said that ­after I asked for half the money for the urn. I think I'll have to pay for the whole thing now. Damn it.

Will looks at me as though I just punched him in the gut. Then his look turns mutinous. I probably would have been better off with a psycho who eats the innards of his prey.

"Fine," he says, staring at me like he wants to strangle me. "If that's how you want it."

He starts to turn away, fists tightly clenched at his sides, but he suddenly whips back around, scorn and coolness distorting his usually handsome features. "But just so you know, I'm done. I'm done playing your game. Go ahead, run away like you always do, shut everyone out, we're all used to it. But just so you know, one day, when you come running back, no one will be waiting for you with open arms. You just lost me; who's next?"

For the next few hours, I sit on my porch swing alone, shaking with fright as his words tumble in my head like a bad pop song from the nineties – infuriating yet impossible to forget.

And as if things aren't bad enough, now I know I'll have to shell out all the money for a new urn.

"So . . . what did you want to talk about?"

I'm sitting with Richard under the tree. With the 'forever.' It's making me a little queasy since I can see it from the corner of my eye, but I ignore the feeling because I have to do this now since I'm feeling really guilty about that kiss and . . . okay, I'll admit it. I'm not feeling all that guilty. I just want Richard to stop acting like we're in love because it's getting on my nerves. I never even said that I loved him.

"Us," I say, sitting down on the green, green grass.

Richard sits too, as I take a deep breath.

"Richard – " I start, but he holds up a hand.

Oh great. Here's where his ego is going to swell. He's going to propose. I know it. And then somehow I'm going to marry him against my will, and I'll end up in jail for the pre-meditated murder of my husband. I hope I won't get a life sentence. Perhaps I can plead insanity.

"Look, I think I know what you're going to say," Richard goes, and then he reaches into his pocket. He's getting the ring. I can tell. What else can he be getting out of his pocket? "And I agree with you."

Of course you do, Richard. Because you think I'm in love with you. Even though I'm not.

But to my surprise, he just brings out a crumpled piece of paper.

Then he looks a bit sheepish. "I was just looking at your books, and this fell out. It was hidden in the shelves."

Intrigued, I unfold the paper. It reads:


Happy 18th Birthday! I know this is kind of lame as far as presents go, but I couldn't find what you really wanted, so you'll just have to settle with this stupid thing. Please don't laugh. It's like the first poem I wrote. Ever.

Will Brady, you are the one
That makes me stay when I want to run.

I feel like I could spend forever and a day
Just listening to every word you say.

You are perfect, a god made just for me
To kiss and to hold, and to just be free.

You are my soul mate, I know for sure
Because when I am sad, you are my cure.

You are my first love, I fell so fast
But even so, I know our love will last.

I know this poem is just a bit lame
But I couldn't find that Xbox game.

So take this and pretend it's something you like,
Or I shall go off and date Fitzgerald, Mike.


Wow. I should never try to write poetry again. Thank god I never gave this to Will. I wrote this about a week before his birthday, after futilely searching for some stupid car game for his Xbox. Then I showed it to Carol and asked her what she thought. She told me that she was so happy for me; that Will was changing me into a mature, young lady in love; that I had changed so much already because of Will, and I hadn't even realized it.

And she was right. I had changed. My grades in school were up, I was walking Lance everyday (and remembering to pick up his poop – the neighbors were always peeved at me for forgetting), and I was constantly cleaning my room (because I didn't want Will to see my bras and underwear lying around, especially the Hello Kitty ones. No self-respecting, mature woman wears Hello Kitty undergarments. Besides it's not like we had done It. I didn't want Will to think I always wore Hello Kitty bras and underwear. But there was this one time when we were at second base and I totally thought he was going to take off my shirt and see that adorable kitty looking up at him, but then he just looked at me sweetly and went 'I love you so much,' and we just started snuggling after that).

Although the changes Will had effected in me were actually good, I hated myself because I hadn't realized anything until Carol brought it to my attention. That was when I realized how much I really loved Will. I always knew that I loved him, but I never realized how much. But when I did, boy, did it scare me. I finally saw how serious we were, and how much I could get hurt if he broke up with me. So I beat him to the punch and ended it a week before his birthday. Actually, it was more like six days before his birthday. God, I was cruel. I still am, I realize, as I recall Will's haunting words.

Suddenly I feel something warm in my hand, and I stop my reminiscing. Richard is holding my hand and looking at me earnestly.

"Belle," he says, surprising me by not calling me 'Izzy,' "I've been unfair to you. I know you've been trying to break up with me –" he knows?? I just thought he was that oblivious and egotistical all the time! What a jerk! "– but I just liked you so much that I just thought that maybe one day, you could like me, too."

Then he gestures to the letter I never gave Will, which I'm still clutching in my hand. "When I saw that I finally realized how serious you and Will really were. And I also know you, Belle. I know that you haven't let go, that you still love him."

"That's not true," I say with a nonchalant roll of my eyes, even though I'm not feeling so nonchalant on the inside.

"You quit while you're ahead. You always do," Richard says sounding sincere. I look away from his grey eyes and I see Will standing at the corner of my street and our eyes meet. He sees my hand entwined with Richard and he sneers at me a little. I'm about to sneer back – a natural reflex – when I notice the pretty redhead holding his hand.

She's shorter than me and – oh my god, Will just leaned down and kissed her.

No, Will can't be kissing other girls! I won't have it! I mean, he's my –

My what? He's only my ex-boyfriend. He's allowed to kiss other girls.

But I don't want him to. Because I only want him to kiss me.

"Belle," Richard says, and I start and my eyes dart back to him. "Look I know this is hard for you to hear, but I'm not lying to you."

"I don't understand . . . ." I say, sounding a little ditzy. Will is still kissing her. It's been like twenty seconds already. When are they going to STOP??

You know what? I don't care. I'm not looking anymore. I don't need Will. Really, I don't, not one bit. Besides, why should I care about what he does with his slutty lips?

"It's like how you are when we used to play Pac-Man at the arcade. Whenever you were going to lose, you would just quit. And you did the same thing with Will. You knew how much you loved him, but you didn't want him to have an advantage over you, so you ended it before you could get hurt, just like you always ended the game before you could lose," Richard explains matter-of-factly, but sounding sort of sympathetic at the same time.

Okay, I can't help it, I just looked. They're still going at it. They should stop. Like, right now. This is not your bedroom, Will.

"Belle," Richard persists, shaking my hand a little to get my attention. She just touched his butt. I totally saw. And he didn't even protest! He's such a kiss-whore. A full minute must have passed already. I'll bet it's already a minute and a half. "What the hell are you looking at?"

Then he turns around and sees his cousin locking lips with Red Haired Wonder. When he turns back to me, he looks incredibly smug.

I glare at him a little. "What?" I demand.

"I told you so," Richard says in an annoying sing-song voice. I raise an eyebrow in response. "You love him," he whispers. Then, louder, "Isabelle Chambers looovvess W –"

I clamp my hand over his mouth before he can finish and look into his eyes defiantly. "I don't love him." Then I look down into my lap, where my unsent letter lies. "I don't."

Only it sounds like I'm trying to convince myself instead of Richard.

"I can't still be in love with him, can I?" I ask Richard in an alarmed whisper.

Richard pulls my hand from his face. "You can, and you are."

"But what if –" I start, and a million different scenarios go through my head, all ending with Will breaking my heart.

"I think that's something you should discuss with him," Richard interjects, jerking his head toward Will, who finally stops kissing that stupid little midget (after a whole two minutes, mind you). Okay, that was mean. She's really not that short. I'm just aggravated. For reasons unrelated to Will. I just don't want him to get herpes or something. I mean, who knows where her lips have been? She could be a breeding ground for STD's. But, as a kiss-whore, I guess he deserves it. Maybe it'll teach him a lesson.

Richard starts to get up. "I'll still give you a ride back to the city. And I'll explain to your dad and step mom for you." Then he leans in and gives me a kiss on the cheek. "Good luck," he whispers, pulling away.

I hug my knees to my chest and look over to where Will and Little Red Riding Hood were just kissing. Will gives me a withering look and turns away. And then I realize that that might be the last look he gives me, which I find horribly upsetting. No more soft, loving blue eyes, sparkling at me in euphoria. No more silly grins or wrinkled noses. Just sneers and dirty looks and disheartening scowls.

Frightened, I leap to my feet. For some reason, I never thought that Will would ever give up on me, that he would move on. I told him to, but I never actually thought he would because . . . because well, I can't imagine him being with anyone but me.

"Will!" I shout, running after him. "Will, wait!"

He stops and turns around, looking a little surprised at first. "What do you want?" he asks coldly.

I'm a little taken aback, but I guess I should have expected that. "I need to talk to you."

He closes his eyes. "Don't go making that face at me."

"What face?" I ask innocently, even though I know exactly what he's talking about. It's the face I pull when I do something wrong. I just furrow my eyebrows, widen my eyes worriedly, and turn the corners of my lips down. Then my victim (who is usually my dad – the sucker) stops being so angry and lets me off the hook. I really have to thank my parents for giving me such good genes. My cousin tried it one time on her boyfriend and he asked her if she was going to throw up and started slowly backing away.

Will sighs resignedly. "Just give me ten minutes, okay? I just need to walk her home," he says gesturing towards Red Haired Wonder.

I look over at her, and it seems like she's scrutinizing me. "Okay," I say finally.

Will looks at me for a second longer, and then he turns back to Red Riding Hood.

"So, that's her?" I hear her ask before I turn away.

"Yeah," Will confirms.

"She's . . . pretty," I hear Little Red say tightly before their voices fade away.

What's that even supposed to mean? Are they talking about me? I bet Will portrayed me as the pathetic ex-girlfriend who won't leave him alone. Which is so not true. I'm not pathetic.

Grumbling, I sit back at my tree and grab hold of the poem, waiting for Will to get back. If he decides to. I mean, he might have gotten caught up in the moment with Little Red and now they're doing It on her bed (I bet her sheets are nice. Nicer than mine, with the stupid little dogs staring up at you. Because who wants to do It with dog sheets? Obviously not Will).

I close my eyes and hug my knees closer to my chest. After a few minutes, a shadow falls over me and I look up at Will.

"Hey," he says, looking a little uncomfortable.

I stand up, hiding the worn paper behind my back. "Hi."

Will stands in front of me, and, before I can say anything, he takes a big breath. "Look – that girl – her name is Allison James and I met her– "

I interrupt him. I didn't want this. I'm not sure what I want, actually, but I definitely don't want life story of Little Red, and how he fell for her and her stupid red hair. "Could you not talk about her?"

"I'm trying to explain," Will says, and his hands curl into fists, "because I don't want to hurt you. I don't purposely hurt people."

Then I mirror his stance because I'm getting pretty angry too. "And I do?"

"At least I don't date your cousins."

"Well at least I don't hook up with every blonde bimbo who crosses my path," I say venomously, which was so, so stupid. Allison James isn't even blonde – I'm a blonde. I just called myself a bimbo! Aw, jeez. I really need to work on my comebacks.

Will raises an eyebrow looking a little amused, and my face flushes in embarrassment. "Yeah, I have been hooking up with a bunch of blonde bimbos, haven't I? Just yesterday, there was another, I think."

"Shut up," I growl, my nostrils flaring a bit.

"She wasn't too bright either. Immature, too," he adds as an afterthought.

I cross my arms across my chest and he stares down at the poem I'm still holding. Oh no. I hope the writing is facing me. Because I wrote his name in giant bubble letters. And then I outlined them in red. He's staring. Well, maybe he's staring at the chocolate stain. He does love eating after all. That's it. He's probably just getting really hungry. I should go put this away now. Or burn it.

"What is that?" Will asks, tilting his head a bit to the side, as it to read it.

I hastily begin folding it up. I should start searching for that lighter. "Nothing."

"No, it says my name on it!" he exclaims and then reaches out for it. "Why don't you want me to see it? Wrote me a hate letter, huh? Were you feeling guilty about before at the park, and now you want to apologize – only you can't because I found – your – hate – letter – Give it to me, Belle!"

Will gets more agitated as I keep holding it out of his grasp, grunting each word as he makes another attempt to swipe the paper from me.

"It's nothing! Really, just – it's nothing!" I say, finding it more and more difficult to keep it from Will.

I start to run, but he easily catches me and pulls me up against him so my back touches his chest and I can feel his heart thumping in his chest wildly. Flustered from his touch, he takes advantage and steals the paper from my hands.

I watch him, paralyzed with horror. He's going to hate me. That poem is the most dreadful thing ever written. I'd have been better off throwing him a few lines from Dr. Seuss or something.

Finally, he finishes reading that stupid thing and looks up at me with wide eyes. "All right, all right! Just stop looking at me like that already!" I demand heatedly. "I know it's horrible! Just – could you just forget it?"

Except he won't stop looking at me like – like he's seeing the sun for the first time. That's obviously because I'm now at his mercy. He's going to use that thing as blackmail.

He still isn't saying anything. "Well, if you have to know, I was, you know – afraid – but only a little!" I add in hastily, as he just stares incredulously. "You know, we were serious, and I had – I had certain feelings for you that some might have construed as . . . love . . . and those . . . feelings . . . well, I might've carried them with me to present day – so, I guess you could say that maybe, I, uh, might slightly love, um, you know, you . . . yeah."

I can't explain why, but for some reason, an unseen choir just burst into a chorus of "Hallelujahs" right in my ears and I feel like I'm going to start floating around with some white puffy clouds singing love ballads.

"You love me?" Will asks, still looking at me in amazement.

I look at his whirlpool-like eyes. Then, after nodding slightly, I promptly burst into tears.

Sometimes, I just don't understand myself.

And they aren't those soft, heartbreaking little sobs that make your breath catch in your throat. No, because I hardly ever cry. But when I do, I really go all out – blotchy face, puffy red eyes, snotty nose, and gallons of tears. And I don't stop for a good ten minutes – at the least.

This is exactly why I avoid crying in public. Because it's mortifying. Especially when you're crying all over your ex-boyfriend (and his clean, nice-smelling shirt) – who you turned into a kiss-whore – and you just admitted that you love him, when you know that he loves a short redhead who grabs his butt while kissing.

Then, to make things even worse, I start babbling with my thick, nasally voice – while I'm still sobbing. I tell him how I was scared that he was going to hurt me – which is the only reason why I broke up with him, and how Richard and I broke up, and how sorry I was for letting him read that wretched poem, and how much I love him, even if he loves Little Red Riding Hood now.

All through this Will is looking at me as though I've handed him the cure to cancer – well, until I get up to the last part about the loving-him-even-though-he-loves-someone-else-now part. Then he just looks kind of angry. Well, I can't blame him. He is a kiss-whore after all. He probably wanted to sneak in another kiss from me before he became a one-pair-of-lips kind of man, but then I figured him out, so now he realizes he can't.

"You think I don't love you anymore?" Will asks, sounding angry.

"Y-you were kissing the other g-girl," I say, sniffling.

"Belle, I don't care about her! She was just a distraction – that's what all of them were – distractions from you!" he says earnestly, bringing me close to him – so close, that I can feel his hot breath fanning over my face. It smells like chocolate.

I sniffle, and then wipe my face from tears. Thank god I don't wear make up, otherwise I would have been utterly repulsive right now.

"Really?" I ask, my voice sounding small and childlike.

He nods his head slightly, before stooping down and kissing me full on the lips. Then, after a few minutes (or hours, I was distracted, so I can't really tell), he pulls away and says, "I love you, Belle, I never stopped loving you."

I'm smiling now, and then I pat Will's cheek a little and go, "I love you, too, Will."

Will embraces me tightly, and I'm happier than I've been in a long time.

"Honestly, I can't believe I'm getting my happily-ever-after moment with you," Will says, laughing.

As Will chuckles lightly, I lift my head from his chest. "Is this what it feels like?" Will nods his head. "I feel like . . . I feel a little bit like I'm forgetting something . . ."

Will just shrugs, so I lean back into him.

"Belle!" I hear Carol's voice scream from inside after a few moments. "What happened to Falafel's urn?!"

Ah, that's it. Now I remember.

"By the way, you owe me fifty bucks," I grin cheekily at him, but he doesn't say anything, he just rolls his eyes.

Now, it's happily-ever-after.

And you know what?

It feels pretty nice.

Wow, this was much longer than I thought it would be. It also took me a bit longer to write, since I've been re-reading Harry Potter - hah, I love those books. I wanted to see it at midnight, but my mom won't let me (damn parents, what are they good for?), so now I've got to wait.

I found this one a bit difficult to write, too. I think it was mostly because I had to have Belle realize she still loves Will, but I didn't want to make it seem unnatural and hasty since she's stubborn and afraid of her feelings, so I ended up rewriting three-quarters of the story. Not as good as my first, in my opinion, but the perfectionist in me wouldn't let this story go unfinished.

Well, thanks for reading (if anyone even survived this practically 10,000 word monstrosity), and let me know what you think.

See you later, alligator,