My hamster is dead.

Okay, well, I'm not sure if he's really dead, but he looked like he was dying this morning. I mean, when I last looked at him, he kind of fell over and landed face first into his bedding.

So I'm pretty sure he's dead.

And now, I think I'm going to hell, because I didn't help my poor little hamster. I should've brought him to the vet. I should've put him in his neon green rolling exercise ball, fastened him safely into the passenger seat of my car, and driven him down to the veterinarian's office. Instead, I ran around my apartment nervously because I didn't know what to do, and then I put his wooden little house over him and went out to the store to buy a bagel for breakfast.

So now I'm not really sure of what I should do. Because, quite frankly, I don't know how to deal with dead animals. I usually just called for my dad to help, but I can't just call for my dad like some kind of baby every time one of my pets dies. No, I'm going to handle this maturely.

"Phoebe!" I call out frantically. Okay, I lied. But maybe Phoebe will check on my little Mario for me.

"What?" she calls back moodily. I must have interrupted her soap opera, I realize. Well, Mario's more important than Days of our Lives. But apparently not more important than everything bagels with cream cheese.

I really hate myself sometimes.

"I need your help," I say in a small voice, staring at the hamster cage apprehensively.

I hear her groan and stomp towards my room. "What?" she asks, peeking her head into my room.

"I think Mario's dead," I whisper, biting my bottom lip.

"Your hamster?" she asks, her brown eyes widening.

I nod my head mutely.

"Okay," she says, nodding her head in a businesslike fashion. "Okay, let's just dump out his cage and then we can sterilize it. We don't have to actually touch him. Okay. Everything's okay. I just need some gloves. . . ."

"But I'm not sure if he's definitely dead! Can't . . . can't you check for me?" I ask, trying to muster up an encouraging smile.

"No," she says with wide, horrified eyes.

"It's just checking! You don't have to touch him! Please, please, please!" I beg. I can feel tears pricking at my eyes.

She stares uneasily at the silent cage, then back at me. "You owe me. You owe me big time, Charlie."

"Thank you!" I quickly swipe at my unshed tears and back away from the cage. "I'll buy you a Venti Mocha Frap at Starbucks, I swear."

She takes a deep, calming breath and reaches over me to grab several tissues, which she uses to wipe down the cover of the cage. Then she washes her hands with a squirt from the Purell bottle she has in her jeans. Grabbing a few more tissues, she uses them to lift the cover off the cage.

"I don't think I can do this, Charles," she says, staring at the open cage uneasily. Her breath is coming short, and soon she's hyperventilating and running from the room.

Okay, so maybe it wasn't the best idea to ask my germaphobic best friend to check on my possibly dead hamster. I mean, there's a reason why everyone calls her Phobie (short for Phobia) instead of Phoebe. Sure, there are advantages to rooming with a germaphobe. See, I never have to worry about the apartment being clean, because Phoebe is always cleaning. But when it comes to checking on possibly dead animals . . . well, Phoebe's not much of a benefit.

I should've called Jason, I realize. I pick up my phone and quickly text him.

Can you come over early? C.

He was coming over anyway because of our date. And since he's not a germaphobe, he can check on my little – probably dead – Mario. I mean, I totally love animals. I always have, ever since I was a kid. But I just can't deal with dead animals. When I was little, I went with my dad on a hunting trip. He killed a bunny. I still remember the frantic scuttling sounds as that bunny ran for shelter; the horrible gush of blood matting the soft grey fur of the bunny's head; the blank looks in its eye; the way it hung limply in my father's hands. And the whole time, I just looked down at that bunny and thought, My dad killed Bugs Bunny. And now because of that one incident, I can't deal with dead animals, because all the surfaces in my mind is dead Bugs Bunny and the image of that poor bunny, who probably had a family waiting at home for him or her. But I know Jason can deal with dead animals without crying hysterically because he loves me and totally understands my love for animals, and even shares my love for them (even though he eats steak). And his dad never killed Bugs Bunny.

My phone vibrates almost immediately, and the screen blinks at me with a new text message.

Sure. J.

No matter how hard I try, I can stop the rush of relief that bubbles up inside me when I realize I won't have to deal with Mario on my own. I'm such a horrible person. I bet, in my next life, I'll be reincarnated as a centipede. And I hate centipedes. I'll probably end up killing myself.


I'm going to be a suicidal centipede.

I rush over to the door excitedly, even though he's late, not early, like he said he'd be. "You need to do me a really big favor," I blurt out, as soon as I open it.

Jason is standing in the doorway looking all spiffy with a forest green button down shirt and a black sports jacket and dark jeans. And his dark brown leather jacket, the one that smells like him, the one I always end up stealing before the night is over. He looks down at me with concern in his dark grey eyes.

"What's up?" he asks with his dark eyebrows furrowed. Then his eyes focus on my outfit. "Why are you wearing your pajamas?"

"I don't have time to explain that right now," I say, walking quickly to my room. "I think Mario's dead. You have to check for me, please, Jase."

"Wait, Charlie," he says, grabbing my hand. "We have a date tonight."

"I know," I frown. "But Mario might be dead."

"How do you know?"

"Because," I say, frowning even deeper, "this morning he fell down on his face and he hasn't moved since."

"Was he breathing?" Jason asks. I think I detect a hint of annoyance in his voice.

"Yeah, but –"

"Then he's fine," Jason interrupts impatiently. "Look, Charles, this date is really important to me."

"But we can always reschedule that date. Why can't you just check?" I tug at my hair in frustration. "It'll take five seconds."

"Yeah, but you'll be crying all night if he's dead," he rolls his eyes. "I was with you when you found out your hermit crab died. I still remember."

"Why are you being so insensitive?" I ask with clenched teeth.

Jason squeezes his eyes shut and runs his hand through his dark brown hair, making it spike up a little in the back. "I-I'm sorry. It's just . . . we really need to be on time for this date."

"Where are we even going, that it's so freaking important?" I ask irately.

"It's a surprise. Just," he walks swiftly over to my closet and opens it, "wear something nice. Please."

"Then get out so I can get dressed," I growl, pushing him out into the hallway.

I quickly dress, yanking things off hangars and out of drawers. I end up pulling on a deep red strapless dress and black tights and a black sequined mini cardigan. After yanking on my black Loutbatins, I quickly check my hair in the mirror and expertly apply deep red lipstick to my lips. After pulling out a small black clutch bag, I stomp towards the door, valiantly trying – and failing – not to look at Mario's silent cage.

Jason's standing by a red-faced– and oddly excited looking – Phoebe, probably because he called her Phobie again. She still hasn't gotten used to it the nickname, even though people have been calling her that since the tenth grade. She used to be normal. But then her brothers played a prank on her and dropped her into their uncle's pigpen. She never really got over it, so now she goes around everywhere carrying a bunch of tissues and hand sanitizer. But now she carries special little shopping bags for them, because she carries so many. She's been ultra paranoid lately, with the outbreak of the swine flu thing.

When I walk into the room, Jason's dark grey eyes focus on me and widen slightly.

"What?" I demand. "Do I have lipstick on my teeth? Well, I had to rush, because God forbid we be late to our date."

"You look beautiful," he replies quietly and sincerely, which makes me feel kind of bad for snapping at him. But then I remember that he refused to simply lift up Mario's house to check on him, and my remorse quickly dissipates.

"Let's just go," I snap, stuffing my keys inside my bag and throwing a cream colored pea coat on quickly.

I walk to Jason's car brusquely without waiting for him and I get in, slamming the door angrily.

We've been driving in silence for ten minutes when Jason says, "Look, Charlie." He reaches over to turn down the radio. "You'll forget all about Mario by the time we get back –"

"What are you saying?" I interrupt tersely. "That this date you planned is so amazing that I'll forget about the hamster I had for four years?"

"Well, yeah – I mean, no," he corrects himself hastily. "No, of course not."

"No, Jase, I think that's exactly what you're thinking," I say lowly, glaring at him as I fold my arms across my chest childishly.

"Charlie." Jason reaches over for my hand, briefly taking his eyes off the road.

"Just drive," I say moodily, shifting closer to the window.

Jason sighs and grips the steering wheel tightly, almost as though he's angry. Well, he has no right to be angry. If anyone should be angry, it's me. I'm the one who's going to be a suicidal centipede in my next life.

"We're here," Jason says curtly.

I get out of the car and look around. It's dark out, but it looks suspiciously like he brought me to the park. Did he honestly make me dress up for the park? I mean, I like dressing up, but not when my hamster is dead or dying.

"Are we – are we at the park?" I ask him. But he doesn't answer. I whip around, and I can't find him anywhere. "Jason?"

"Up here!" His voice sounds distant. I look up and see him standing on a low branch of a tree.

"What are you doing up there?" I walk over to the tree.

"Come on." Jason leans down and offers his hand.

Kicking off my shoes, I sigh and grab onto his warm hand, ignoring the tingles that shoot up my arm and focusing only on my growing annoyance.

"Did you honestly," I ask as I regain my balance on the thick branch, "make me rush all the way out here so we could climb trees?"

I'm not picky. Really, I'm not. I don't mind if we go out to a casual diner for a date. I don't need fancy five-star restaurants. I actually like cute little things like going to the park. But it's not like the park was going anywhere. I was only asking him to simply check on my ailing hamster. He knows how much I love animals. I've been a freaking vegan ever since I was in the sixth grade. I just get a little peeved when people consider animals to be inferior to humans just because animals can't voice their opinions. I mean, why should people cry hysterically when people die, and not when animals die? Why do people get full blown funerals with thousands of flowers when animal cemeteries are just careless mass burials?

So, maybe I get a little emotional about my pets. But I think I should because obviously no one else – in other words, Jason – will give a damn.

"Charlie." Jason places his hands on my shoulders and turns me around. "Look."

"No!" I throw his hands off my shoulders. "I don't want to look! I just want to go home and check on my hamster, like I asked you to originally!"

"Seriously, just turn the hell around and look." Jason tries to turn me around again. "I worked on this for three freaking hours!"

We struggle for a few moments and I almost fall out of the tree. Jason quickly grabs me by the waist and rebalances me, swearing quietly under his breath.

"God!" I shout, feeling shaken. "I'll look at it! You don't have to push me out of the tree!"

I turn my head around briefly and see a bunch of candles, their flames swaying slightly in the breeze. They're set up so they spell out something, but my gaze passes over the candles too briefly so I only recognize my name in the mass of flames.

My blood really starts to boil then. I almost feel like spontaneously combusting, that's how angry I am.

"Really, Jase?" I ask darkly. "You brought me out here to show me that you can spell my name with candles?"

"Did you even read what the candles spelled out?" he asks, sounding just as angry as I do.

"Yeah, my name, and probably some sappy little message, telling me how much you love me." I start climbing down the tree, probably tearing my tights in the process.

"God, Charlie." I hear a loud thump behind me as he jumps down from the tree after me, probably with much more grace than me. "You care more about your fucking hamster than you do about me. I mean, you can't take one damn minute to just read the message? Do you know how long it took to do that? How much planning I went through? I did all that for you, and you don't even give a shit."

"Where the hell are you going?" he demands angrily as I stomp past his car, holding my shoes in my hand. He grabs my hand and turns me around.

"I'm going home." My vision is blurry from all the hot tears welling in my eyes.

"You're not even wearing your shoes. You'll end up cutting your feet on glass or something," he says, still irritated.

"I don't care!" I cry stubbornly, ripping my hand from his grasp.

"Charlie," he says pleadingly after a few moments. His voice is heavy with remorse. "I'm sorry. I've been acting like a total prick. It's just, well, I'm nervous, Charles."

My heart speeds up at that. I know it shouldn't since he's calling me a guy's name and all, but it does. It always does, even when I'm so angry that I want to spontaneously combust.

What a jerk.

"What are you nervous about?" I swipe at my eyes roughly. "You obviously don't care about Mario. You're not worried about whether he'd dead or alive!" Even though he's dead, dead, dead as a doornail, I add silently in my head.

"I can't believe I'm in love with someone like you," he says, his voice rising with anger. "Someone who cares more about animals than she does about people."

"Well maybe that's just who I am!" I throw my shoes on the ground and shove my feet in. "I'm sorry for not changing myself for you!"

"Well, maybe I can't be with you then. Maybe, for once, I want to be put before Mario."

"Well, that's never going to happen, buddy!"

"Then I guess it's over," he says quietly. I can see his dark eyes burning with fury by the light of the streetlamp we're standing under.

"I guess so." My voice is cold with contempt.

"I had reservations at the Marina Café, but I'm sure you don't want to go now." My breath catches for a moment. That was why he wanted me to get dressed up. But I still don't understand why we couldn't reschedule.

"No, I don't." My eyes are dry now, but my insides feel a little bit like they're falling apart.

"Then I guess I'll just take you home," he says stiffly.

"Good idea. You can pick up the stuff you left at my place then."

I wonder if he'll be very angry if I ask him to check on Mario before he leaves.

"Hey guys!" Phoebe sounds excited. She's smiling like John Travolta's character Charlie in Old Dogs when he got facial paralysis. "So . . . how'd it go?"

Jason and I don't answer her.

Her mood deflates considerably when she spots the stony looks both Jason and I are sporting. "You're . . . back . . . early. . . ." She laughs uneasily when neither of us answers. "So what happened?"

"Oh, nothing really," I answer mock-pleasantly as I unbutton my coat and drape it over a chair. Phoebe slowly edges towards it and hangs it in the coat closet. "Jason was just being an insensitive jerk by totally ignoring my concerns for my hamster."

"Yeah, but Phobie, you have to understand, I worked very hard to impress the woman I'm in love with," Jason says just as pleasantly, with a fake smile to match. "But she was too busy worrying about a rodent to notice my hard work."

"Well, this is certainly a very hard time for both of you." Phoebe's eyes are darting from me to Jason to the chair she's wiping down. "Maybe, um, you should go in the living room to talk things out."

"No, we already talked," I say flippantly.

"Yeah, it's all over between us. Isn't that nice, Phobie?" Jason sticks his hands in his pockets and laughs harshly. "I'd better go."

"What about your stuff?" I ask with pursed lips.

"Keep it. I don't want anything that reminds me of you anymore." Then he walks out, the door slamming behind him.

My heart is hammering loudly, slamming against my ribs. I don't care. I don't need Jason Fletcher. I'm only twenty-five years old after all. It's good that I'm single. Jason was just holding me back.

"Charlie –" Phoebe says tentatively.

"I have to go," I cut in abruptly, my voice shaking. "I promised you a Venti Mocha Frap."

"No, I don't need it! It's already like past eight. You should go after –"

But I don't hear what she says because I'm already out the door – foolishly without my jacket, I later realize – and slamming it behind me.


I look up from where I'm sitting at a table at Starbucks, feeling miserable – I mean ecstatic – about the break up. Standing in front of me is a guy with bright green eyes like mine. It's only Barry, I realize with a start, who lives in the apartment above mine and Phoebe's.

"Hi," I smile softly.

"I just noticed that you're not wearing a jacket, and it's snowing outside." I look out the window and groan inwardly. He's right.

"Well, I'm not in any rush to go home right now. Maybe it'll stop." I shrug my shoulders. "I mean, all I have to look forward to is my dead hamster."

He runs a hand through his auburn hair and sits down. "Aw, jeez, that sucks. What was his name?"

I look up at him, amazed. At least someone cares about my hamster. "Mario." I smile ruefully. "Only, I don't know what to do with him. My dad usually takes care of my pets when they die," I admit lamely. Then I look up. "Not that that kind of thing happens often. I take really good care of my pets."

"I believe you." He grins, flashing his white, perfect teeth. "I mean, if you want, I can help you bury Mario."

"You would do that?" I feel tears pricking at my eyes again. I really have to get it together.

"Yeah, we're friends, right?" he flashes me another grin. "Friends help each other bury their dead pets."

I laugh and throw Phoebe's Venti Mocha Frap in the trash. Well, I said I'd buy her one. I never said I'd let her drink it.

"Oh, Charlotte, wait." I turn around, frowning a little. I hate being called Charlotte. My grandmother was named Charlotte, and she was a slut who cheated on my Grandpa and broke his heart (the family found out about her slutty tendencies after I was born). I'm not a cheating slut. But I obviously can't tell Barry that. He might think I'm weird and then he wouldn't help me bury Mario. I'll just keep my mouth shut, I decide finally.

"You can wear my jacket," he says, grabbing his jacket from the back of his chair.

"Thanks!" I chirp happily, reaching for it.

But when I see it, I almost recoil. He wears a bubble jacket, a really puffy bubble jacket, like the ones my mom always made me wear when I was a little kid. I always hated those jackets. But I can't be rude, so I take it, smiling tightly.

I pull it on as we walk outside, and almost immediately, I want to take it off. It doesn't smell nice, not at all. It smells like moth balls, like he's had it in storage for awhile, and he just started wearing it yesterday.

But he's helping me with Mario, so that's okay.

I just hope no one I know sees me wearing the bubble jacket.

The walk back to our apartment building is silent, and I'm happy when it's over. I practically skip out of the elevator to my door until I see who's standing in front of my door.


He sees me and his eyes light up. "Charlie, I – who's that?"

"I'm Barry," he says, holding out his hand. "I live upstairs."

"Jase, it's not what you think," I say, looking at him kind of desperately. I don't want him to think I'm going to sleep with a guy named Barry who wears bright red bubble jackets after all. It's not like I still care about Jason or anything ludicrous like that. That ship has sailed.

Really, it has.

"No," Jason says, backing away, his eyes glued to the floor. "It's fine. I'll just leave you with, um, Barry. Bye, then."

I unlock my door silently and lead Barry to my room and point silently at Mario's cage.

He walks over to it silently and lifts up the wooden house. Mario's still lying in the same position as this morning. Barry reaches a tentative hand in the cage and pokes Mario gently.

"He's dead, Charlotte. I'm sorry."

I feel like barfing, only I'm pretty sure Mario's death isn't the only cause.


Someone is shaking me awake, but my eyes feel like they're glued shut. I don't want to try opening them.


Oh, that's Phoebe's voice. Why won't she leave me alone? I just want to sleep.

"Hey, Charlie, come on, it's Monday, and we have to get to work."

Aargh, but I don't want to go to work. Even if I do have an amazing job at a fashion magazine where I have my own column. But I'm not sure if even a sale at Betsey Johnson could get me up today.

Okay, so that's a complete lie. I could have no legs and be in dire need of a heart and lung transplant, and still go to a Betsey Johnson sale. Okay, that's a lie, too, because I would so come back from the grave for a Betsey Johnson sale.

"I know you're still upset about Jason, but –"

She stops mid-sentence because I immediately bolt up from my bed.

"I'm not upset about Jason!" I exclaim defiantly, only it's not as effective as I imagined it in my head because my voice is still thick and croaky from sleep.

"But you were lying in bed all day yesterday," she points out hesitantly.

"Pheebs, I was sitting shiva for Mario," I say slowly.

"But you're not Jewish. And you have to sit shiva for seven days." I feel like she's treating me like I'm some kind of unhinged maniac, about to mow everyone down with the machine gun hidden underneath my bed.

"Well . . . I was doing the agnostic version, and . . . I have to get ready for work!" I jump out of bed and run to the shower.

I jump in the shower and let the hot water run over my body, relaxing my muscles. I don't care about Jason. Sure, there was a time in my life when I thought about spending the rest of my life with him. But that would've been horrible. I mean, he's a meat eater. Not like Barry, who's a vegetarian. Not that I want to spend the rest of my life with Bubble Jacket Barry. But still.

I get out of the shower and wrap myself in a towel. Wiping the steam from the mirror, I stare at my reflection. My blonde hair is dripping water onto the counter and my eyes look kind of red from crying. There are dark circles under my eyes and my lips are pale in comparison to the red lipstick I had on the night I went out with Jason.

Ergh. Stupid. That's what I am. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Stupid for going on that hunting trip with my dad. Stupid for blowing up in Jason's face. Stupid – and this is probably the worst of all – for wearing Barry's bubble jacket.

Rolling my eyes, I stomp out of the bathroom and search my closet for something to wear. I decide on a knitted mustard colored dress that I pair with light brown tights and dark brown, knee high boots. Letting my hair dry in its natural, smooth waves, I go into the kitchen and pour myself some Lucky Charms. I know, they're not vegan. But I simply can't resist them.

They really are magically delicious.

When I finish breakfast, I ignore Phoebe, who's staring at me cautiously, like I'm going to collapse in the middle of the kitchen floor screaming Jason's name.

As if.

I go back into my room and apply concealer to cover the dark circles under my eyes and pink lip gloss on my lips to make them look less pale. There, I smile happily back at my reflection. I look totally normal, and not at all like I've been crying my eyes out.

Over the death of my hamster, of course. Not over Jason. God. I wouldn't be so pathetic.

Really. I was just agnostically sitting shiva yesterday.

I swear.


That's all I see.

Big, giant, lilies, in all different colors. There are big orange ones, then yellow ones with dark, orange centers, then pure white ones, and pink ones. . . .

And they're all over my office.

I hope they're not from Bubble Jacket Barry.


I look over, and Claire, the intern, is walking over to me excitedly. She's so adorable, with her short bob and her killer fashion sense.

"Hey, Claire, what's up?" I ask casually.

She points speechlessly from one vase of lilies to the next.

"Yeah, I see them," I say, blushing a bit.

"Do you know who they're from?" she asks, her blue eyes staring at me owlishly.

"Um," I say, because all I can think is please don't let it be Bubble Jacket Barry, please don't let it be Bubble Jacket Barry.

"Jason!" It's almost like his name bursts from her lips involuntarily, but she's still beaming at me.

"Jason Fletcher?" I ask for clarification, even though I don't know any other Jasons. Well, except for the gay receptionist, Jason. But I highly doubt that gay Jason would send me lilies.

"Yeah," she says breathlessly. "He brought them in himself. I was here when he did it. He said that he's really, really sorry."


"I think he was waiting around for you, but then his phone rang, so he left." Now Claire's biting her lip nervously. "Um, I guess I'll just get your coffee."

"Okay," I say dreamily, still staring blankly at the lilies.

What does this even mean? Does he want to get back together? I mean, not that I want to. He's a meat eater who doesn't care about Mario. He didn't even go to the funeral. Okay, so the funeral was pretty obscure, and it's not like I told anyone. And only Bubble Jacket Barry and I were there. But still. He could have called.

And he hasn't. Right? I reach into my bag absently and flip open my phone.



He has called.

Eighteen times.

Well . . . well, that doesn't mean that he wants to get back together. He's just feeling guilty. Really, really guilty for not going to Mario's funeral.



Okay, so I'm buying ices.

It's not that big of a deal. Just because I'm going to eat ices after a major break-up does not mean that I'm being the stereotypical heartbroken girl.

Besides, you're supposed to eat ice-cream after a break-up. And I'm eating ices.

And if I wasn't a vegan, I still wouldn't be eating ice-cream.

Really, I wouldn't.

I've just had a hard day at work. The lilies were very distracting.


I turn around and my eyes widen considerably. It's Jason, wearing his brown leather jacket that doesn't smell like moth balls.

"Hi," I say, smiling pleasantly.

"Listen," he says, tapping his foot on the floor. It's a nervous habit of his. "Um, I've been meaning to talk to you. Uh, did you get my flowers?"

A gurgle of laughter slips past my lips before I can stop it. "Yeah," I say, smiling genuinely this time.

"Good," he says, smiling hesitantly back at me. "Um, are-are you doing anything after this?"

My breath is getting shorter. The air feels electrified, as we stand together in the ice-cream aisle.

"No, no I'm free." I tuck some hair behind my ear self-consciously.

"Cool. Charles," he says, and my heart does a little back flip. "Do you want to go to the park with me? Well, I mean, as long as you're not going out with Barry."

At that I laugh, loudly. I even snort embarrassingly at the end. "Bubble Jacket Barry?" I ask him, my eyes glowing with laughter. "No way!"

Jason starts laughing, too, after breathing what seems to be a sigh of relief. "Okay, so I'll meet you at the park."


Then he does something I'm not expecting. He walks over, strokes my cheek with his warm, calloused thumb, and kisses my nose, leaving me feeling baffled, excited, and tingly all over.

Friends kiss each other's noses, right? I'm sure it's even a greeting in some countries. I bet Jason's just trying out a different greeting. That's all.

As I walk to my car, I rub my nose, trying to dispel the tingles that won't seem to leave.


"Hi," Jason says, as I walk over to him from my car.

He's standing underneath the tree from Saturday night.

"Hi," I say shyly.

"Do you still love me?" he asks suddenly.

"Um, what?" I can barely hear him, because my heart's beating so loud. I wish it would just calm down so I can concentrate.

"I love you, Charles. So, so much. I just need to know if you still love me."

Wait. Did he just say that he loves me? My head is spinning.

"Charlie," Jason walks over to me swiftly, and takes my hands in his. "I know I'm not perfect. I eat meat. I go fishing, which is practically murder in your eyes. I eat ice-cream. I don't think twice when I'm eating a burger or a steak. But I love you, and . . . and if you want, I'll change. I'll become a vegetarian or a vegan. I'll do it, if you want me to."

Oh my God. He looks so earnest. His grey eyes are like just slicing right into me, right into my very core. I don't want to look anymore, because his gaze is so intense and beautiful – not that I'd ever harm his manliness and voice that aloud – but I can't tear my eyes from his. Then he moves his hands from mine, and he holds my face in his hands like I'm the most precious thing in the world. And just like that, I feel so warm. It's like this big whooshing that starts at my toes, warming them slowly. Then suddenly the feeling just shoots up through my body like some kind of rocket, and suddenly I'm warm all over. But the feeling doesn't pass. It never does. It's like, after I'm all whoosh-y and warm, it just grows and grows, but it never burns out.

"Charlie, I love you," he murmurs, before his lips crash down on mine.

And then I have no doubts whatsoever. My heart is soaring as his lips find mine. My knees grow weak, and I clutch onto his jacket to stay standing. And I know, as he's running his fingers through my hair, that I love him; that I wasn't agnostically sitting shiva for Mario; that I was crying because I lost Jason; that I'm crying right now because he's mine again.

"I love you, too," I say with a watery smile. "I'm so sorry about how I treated you. It was totally uncalled for. And the candles were amazing. And I should've appreciated them more, Jase. I'm so sorry."

"Don't be," he smiles softly, kissing my nose again. Then he takes a deep breath. "I guess I'm going to have to do this without the candles."

"Do . . . what?"

Then, he gets down on one knee, and pulls a box out of his pocket. "Will you marry me, Charles?"

"Seriously?" I ask, laughing happily. Then I stop, abruptly. "Wait. Stand up."

"Charles?" he asks, slowly rising to his feet.

"I don't want you to change. I don't care if you're a meat eater. That's who you are, and it's unfair of me to ask you to change. That's like you forcing me to go hunting. So," I say, feeling suddenly shy, and looking down at the dry, frozen grass, "As long as you don't change, I'll definitely marry you."

Then Jason's hugging me and kissing me all over. "I love you, so, so much," he says between kisses.

"Wait a second," he says suddenly. He stops kissing me, and looks at me, with a playful look in his dark eyes. "I've been eating lots of vegan-y foods in the whole two days that we were apart. And I realized something. You eat Lucky Charms."

"Yeah." I raise an eyebrow in question.

"They're not vegan."

I grin at him devilishly.

"No, but they really are magically delicious."

A/N: Oh gosh, this is really horrible, but I signed up for the Breaking Up, Making Up Contest, and I'd feel horrible if I backed out. So I haven't edited this story once, so I'm really sorry for any mistakes, but I fully intend on editing this like, tomorrow or something, when I'm not feeling so frazzled.

Aargh, it kind of sucks that I came back after being nonexistent for like three months with this. But, oh well. Every author has a not-so-great story.

Anyhow, Happy New Year Everyone!