Alex moved to the back of the bus and dropped sideways into an empty seat. She adjusted her headphones on her ears and rested her head back on the window. Silently, she prayed that Ryan wouldn't follow her back there. As Linkin Park filled her ears, she closed her eyes so she wouldn't have to see him get on the bus.

The ride was uneventful. Alex fell into a doze for a bit until she felt the bus start slowing down for stops. As people began to file off the bus, she noticed Ryan sitting in a seat near the front. He was sitting straight forward, his back towards her, and she was glad. It really did seem like he was everywhere though.

They had the same lunch every day, and they rode the same bus. They had classes on the same halls even. It was getting a little creepy. At least they didn't have classes together. She would probably have to switch out.

But that made her wonder why, if she was so appalled by him, was she actually considering going over to his house? She had said, "Maybe," to him.

The bus stopped again and let a few more people off. The next stop was hers. She pulled her backpack off the floor and set it on the seat beside her, readying herself to go home. As the bus rolled to another stop, she slung the straps of her knapsack over her shoulders and slid to the end of her seat. She noticed Ryan turn back to look at her and she sighed. He was trying so hard to be her friend and she couldn't understand why.

Alex stood and headed down the isle past Ryan. He waved at her with a beaming smile and she found she couldn't help but wave back. As she walked down the steps of the bus, she wondered what was wrong with her. She seemed to be inviting his friendliness now. The last thing she wanted to do was that.

Or did she secretly want a friend like him? Someone who wasn't deterred by her attitude and looks. But he was just so odd… Surely the two of them couldn't be friends. She couldn't deny that a part of her found him interesting though. It disturbed her.

The bus dropped her off at the corner where it had picked her up that morning, and as she headed down the road, she found herself lost in thought. Maybe she would actually go over to Ryan's house and see about that HIM CD. She knew she'd see him the next day in school. He didn't seem to be relenting in his attempts to befriend her.

She reached her driveway and climbed the slight hill to her house. As she entered the house, she swung the door shut behind her. She hung her jacket up on the rack by the door and heard a thundering of footsteps upstairs. Alex grinned, knowing it was her brother racing to greet her. He did that every day. She had to admit that she liked it. She felt it gave her a bit of a connection to him.

"Alex!" David cried, bounding down the steps. He leaped over the last one and latched onto his sister, hugging her tightly around her waist.

"Hey squirt. How was school?" she asked, tousling his hair.

"It was fine. How was your day?" he replied, looking up at her.

"Eh. I have this weird guy following me around."

David let go of her and tilted his head in confusion. "He follows you around?"

"Yeah, he's weird. It's like he's stalking me."

"What's his name?"

"Ryan something. He's creepy," Alex said, knowing she was only half lying. A part of her welcomed him into her life because she was, in actuality, lonely. But she didn't want to ever admit that to herself, which was why she separated herself from humanity.

"Sounds like it." Jade's voice carried through the hall from the living room where she sat on the couch watching TV.

"No one asked you," Alex snapped.

"No one had to," Jade replied coolly.

Alex resisted the urge to use every curse word under the sun against her sister since her little brother still stood beside her. Instead, she slid past David and darted up the stairs to her room.

Slamming the door behind her, Alex stormed across the room and dropped onto her bed. She punched "play" on her CD player and Evanescence shook the walls.

She had hated her sister ever since she had taken over the role of mother to her and David. Alex had concluded that Jade would make a horrible parent if she ever had true kids of her own. She did everything she could to resist her older sister and piss her off. It had become almost like a game. It was a game she was sure to win and she liked those.


Ryan strained to see which driveway Alex turned down. A part of him was tempted to head over to her house that afternoon and bring his HIM CD. He wasn't sure how he would be received, but she had said, "Maybe," before the buses. Before the bus turned the corner down his street, he thought he saw Alex head up a driveway. He wasn't sure though, and he didn't want to knock on the wrong door.

As his bus rolled to a stop in front of his own driveway, he grabbed his backpack and slid through the doors. He figured he'd ask his dad some questions about how to befriend her and if he should go over to her house that afternoon.

Ryan entered his house and called a hello to his father.

"Hey, son. How was school?" Tristan replied. He was in the kitchen, a big pot of homemade soup on the stove. Although he was a horrible plumber, he was a magnificent cook.

"It was great," Ryan replied, dropping his backpack in the hall. He'd take it up to his room when he was headed that way. "Did I tell you that there was a new girl in school?"

"No, you failed to mention that. What's her name?" Tristan asked, turning to his son.

Alex Moore. She's kind of a loner, but she said she might come over here to see my autographed HIM CD. Is that okay?"

"Yeah, sure. You don't have enough friends over this house. When is she coming over?" his dad asked.

"I'm not sure. I don't exactly have her number either. Would I seem like a stalker if I looked her up in the phone book?" Ryan inquired, fighting a blush.

Tristan chuckled. "If she said she might be coming over you should give her a call to see if she is or not. There's nothing wrong with that."

"Okay," Ryan said happily and darted into the living room. He grabbed the phone book from under the end table by the couch and flipped through it. "Moore, Moore, Moore," he muttered to himself, flitting through the white pages.

When he found the last name, though, his face fell as he saw how many Moores there were in Tarapin County. Well, she does live on my street, he thought, so he looked for Andrews Dr. Sure enough, there was a listing for Moore, Jade. Ryan figured that must be her mother. With butterflies in his stomach, he grabbed the phone.

His hand was shaking as he dialed her number and waited as it rang. After the third ring, a sweet, female voice answered. He figured the voice must belong to Jade because he couldn't imagine Alex sounding that gentle.

"Hi," Ryan said nervously, closing his eyes. "Is Alex around?"

"Yes, may I ask who is calling?" Jade asked.

"Um, yeah. It's Ryan."

"Okay, hold on please." Ryan heard a soft thud as Jade put the phone down on the table. He felt as though his heart had stopped as he waited for what seemed like hours. Finally, a harsher female voice came on the line.


"Alex?" Ryan asked, his whole body now shaking.

"Yeah, who the hell is this?"

"It's Ryan, from school."

"Oh." There was a pause. "Well, what do you want?"

"Well, I guess I wanted to know if you were interested in coming over. You know, to see the HIM CD," Ryan said, crossing his fingers behind his back.

She didn't answer immediately and Ryan thought he was going to have heart failure. But then she said, "Where do you live?"

Excited now, he said, "I'll pick you up. I saw where the bus dropped you off, can you meet me there?"

"Yeah I guess. When are you picking me up?" she asked.

"Now? If that's okay with you," he added quickly, praying he didn't say anything wrong.

"Yeah, sure. See you then." Without waiting for a 'goodbye," she hung up.

Ryan dropped the phone onto the base and jumped into the air. "Yes!" he cried. He turned on his heel and ran up the stairs to his room to straighten his hair and make sure he looked perfect.

"Dad, I'm bringing Alex over!" he called from his doorway.

"All right, son!" his father replied.

With a deep breath, Ryan stepped in front of his mirror and ran his fingers through his hair. When every strand was perfect, he ran down the stairs and grabbed his keys off the hook by the front door.


Alex got off the bed and headed to the bathroom. She looked briefly in the mirror and ran a hand through her hair, giving it body. After she was satisfied with her looks, she left the bathroom and headed down the stairs.

"I'm going out," Alex called to Jade.

"Where are you going?" Jade called back, looking back over the couch.

"Out," Alex repeated. Before her sister could say anything more, Alex had shut the front door behind her.

She set off for her bus stop, wondering what made her agree to see Ryan. Had she not just told David that he was a creepy stalker? And how did he get her number? She had half a mind to turn around and go back home, or go to the arcade, but for some reason, her legs kept walking.

She reached the bus stop five minutes later to find a silver Toyota Camry waiting for her. With a sigh, she approached the passenger side door and opened it. As she got in, Ryan greeted her enthusiastically.

"How far away do you live?" Alex asked, ignoring his greeting.

"Not far. About five minutes away. There's a reason we ride the same bus," he said with a laugh.

"How did you get my number?" she inquired.

Ryan blushed, though it went unnoticed by Alex. "I looked you up in the phone book. I knew you lived on Andrew's Drive, so I called that number."

"What would you have done if we weren't listed?"

"I'm not sure… I guess I wouldn't have called you," Ryan said, smiling briefly at her.

They rode in silence for the few more minutes they had in the car. When Ryan turned into his driveway, Alex inspected his house.

It was small, but pleasant. There was a wooden bench on the lawn and a brick walkway leading from the driveway to the front steps. The windows had faded, red shutters, and the door was red as well. The house itself was white and looked like it was in fairly good shape, at least from the outside.

Ryan smiled as he saw her inspecting his home. "It's livable," he joked. Alex ignored him and got out of the car. Her lack of response didn't faze him; he figured he'd gotten used to it. He shut off the car and got out, following Alex to the door.

"It's not locked," he said as his new friend reached the door before him. She opened it and stepped inside, followed shortly by Ryan. She stood in the hall and looked around briefly.

On her right were stairs that she assumed led to bedrooms. To her left was the living room, complete with a wooden entertainment center, couch, chair, and some shelves with a few knick knacks on them. There were two end tables on either side of the couch and Alex could see the lever that turned the chair into a recliner. Ahead of her was the kitchen in which Ryan's father was bustling around a large pot on the stove.

As Ryan closed the door, his father turned to them. "Ahhh, it's nice to meet you, Alex," he said, wiping his hands on a towel. As he approached them with his hand extended to shake hers, Alex gave Ryan a sideways glace as if to ask him, "how does he know my name?" Ryan shrugged.

Alex shook Tristan's hand firmly and he grinned. "Nice handshake. It's not often a woman has such a good one. Usually they're floppy."

Alex grinned at the complement. It was the first time she'd been complemented in a long time.

"So, do you want to see the CD?" Ryan asked.

"Yeah, sure," Alex replied. Ryan headed towards the stairs and she followed.

"We're having beef stew for dinner. I hope you can stay for it, Alex," Tristan called after them.

"Yeah, I'm sure I can," she replied from the top of the stairs. As an afterthought, she added, "Thanks."

"Not a problem," he said, smiling.

Ryan beamed, surprised that Alex would thank someone for anything. "Come on," he said. "My room's this way."

Alex turned and followed him through an open door at the end of the hallway. As she entered, she took another look around.

His bed was in the far corner and it was perfectly made. His shoes were in a line, tucked just under the bed. He had a corner desk on the left and on it was a desktop computer. Around it was neat and tidy, as if he had just cleaned it. The CDs were in their rack above the computer and his books were on a bookshelf next to the desk. Not a thing was out of place. It made Alex feel slightly uncomfortable. It was such a drastic change from her room that she didn't know what to do. She didn't even want to sit in the computer chair for fear of messing something up. His room was a perfect example of how he took care of himself. Everything about him was so… clean.

Ryan headed over to his desk and pulled a CD out from the rack. "Here you go," he said, handing her the HIM CD. She took it from him and opened it. Sure enough, on the CD was a signature in black sharpie that she could barely read.

"Dude, this is so cool," she said staring at it. She momentarily forgot her tough exterior, reverting back to how she had been three years ago.

"You can have it," Ryan said.

"No way, are you serious?" she asked incredulously.

He nodded. "Yep."

"Dude, you totally rock!" Alex said, her eyes lighting up. Ryan beamed relishing in the fact that he had made her happy. It was the first time he had ever seen her actually smile. "Don't let me forget it when I go home, okay?"

"I definitely won't," he replied, smiling at her. "I'm going to put it back on the rack until you go. I won't forget though."

"Okay," she said, handing it back to him. "Dude, I'm going to have an autographed CD by HIM!"

Ryan laughed, thrilled that she was excited and happy. The day was going much better than he had expected.

"So, now what?" Alex asked as he put the CD away.

"Um…" Ryan started. He hadn't thought that far ahead and was now kicking himself. Thankfully, his father calling up the stairs for dinner saved him.

"How about dinner?" Ryan asked, grinning.

"Sure," she said.

The two of them left his room and headed back down the stairs. Ryan led her into the kitchen and Alex noticed that to the left was a dining room, invisible from the front door.

"Need any help setting up, Dad?" Ryan asked.

"Nope, this is the last thing we need," Tristan replied, grabbing the pot of stew. He brought it into the dining room and set it down on a trivet. "Have a seat, guys."

Alex sat down at the table where there was already a bowl and spoon laid out. Ryan took a seat next to her and for the first time, she didn't feel completely repulsed by the fact that he was so close to her.

"Help yourselves," Tristan said, gesturing towards the stew.

Ryan stood up and served Alex first. "Tell me when," he said, ladling soup into her bowl.

"When," she said after a few spoonfuls. Ryan and his father chuckled and she grinned. It was the first time in a long time that she had felt like she was a part of some sort of family, even if she barely knew them. She couldn't remember the last time she, Jade, and David all sat down to dinner pleasantly. It seemed like Ryan and Tristan got along all the time.

"So tell me about yourself, Alex. Ryan said you were new to school. Did you move here?" Tristan asked.

Alex suddenly felt uncomfortable and on the spot. If she told them she'd been expelled from her last school, maybe they wouldn't want her over again and she wouldn't feel that family bond anymore. Then again, she shouldn't be feeling any sort of bond at all, considering she barely knew either of them. So she supposed it wasn't so bad to tell the truth. It still made her feel uncomfortable, however, and that wasn't something she felt very often.

"I was expelled for getting in one too many fights," she said finally. She internally cringed, waiting for Tristan's reply.

"Oh my," he said. "Well, let's hope Ryan can be a good influence on you and keep you out of trouble at Carnegie. We just moved here last year from London, so he knows what it's like to be the new kid on the block. He can help you out, I'm sure."

Ryan smiled at her and she gave him a half-hearted one in return. "It was pretty hard for me when I first started at Carnegie. Everyone looked at me weird because I'm the only one in the school with a British accent. But now I have friends and they're the best. I'll introduce you to them tomorrow if you like," he offered.

Alex nodded slowly. "Okay," she said, though she was unsure about it. Not many people liked her and she was rather surprised that Ryan seemed to like her so much. And his dad was an even bigger surprise because most parents were put off at the mere sight of her attire. Today, she wore black and green Tripp pants with the legs zipped off. Her feet were hidden in clunky, black boots, and on her torso was a black wife beater. Her wrists were decorated in armbands with studs and her makeup was heavy and black. Her hair was no less strange than the rest of her; her blood red streaks stood out like a neon sign. The fact that Ryan's father had invited her for dinner despite how she looked was outright amazing. And after she told him that she'd been expelled he should have kicked her out on the spot. But he didn't. There was something about this family that was so laid back. She liked it.

"So do you have any brothers or sisters?" Tristan asked.

Alex cringed internally again. This was a sensitive topic for her. She didn't like talkinga bout her sister. "Yeah," she said, wondering if she should tell him about Jade. She finally decided that she would, unable to find any harm in it. "I have a younger brother and an older sister."

"Ahh, the middle child. I hope you don't feel like you get lost in the shuffle, because I can guarantee your parents love you just the same as the others," Ryan's father said.

"Yeah…" Alex replied, very uncomfortable now. The last thing she wanted to do was talk about her parents.

Ryan must have sensed her comfort level because he changed the subject. "Great dinner, Dad."

"Thank you, son. Took me all day to make. A good stew is a stew you labor over," Tristan said with a grin. Ryan laughed.

The rest of dinner went smoothly and Alex became more and more comfortable around Tristan and Ryan. She felt like visiting Ryan was possibly the best thing she'd done in a while. She was actually smiling and laughing at their jokes, finding her sense of humor again. Ryan would be the only friend she'd found in nearly three years. She didn't like to admit it, but she'd been lonely. She hadn't even dated.

The only problem she could find with a friendship with Ryan was that she'd be befriending the only Brit in the school, which would put her in a classification of freaks. But then, she was already classified as a freak because of the way she acted and dressed. So, was there really a problem?

By the time Ryan took Alex home, she was feeling better than she had in years. She almost couldn't wait to see him the next morning at school.

"See you tomorrow?" Ryan asked hopefully.

"Why not? See you on the bus. Say, since you drive, why don't you drive to school?" Alex asked.

"Gas prices are insanely high. I prefer to save gas," Ryan said with a hint of a laugh.

"Gotcha. Well, I'll see you tomorrow then," she said, giving him the peace sign as she got out of the car.

"See you tomorrow," he said, smiling. He waited for her to get inside her house before he pulled away. He drove home with a very light heart.