Epilogue

Love and Theft

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The most life-altering events happen when you least expect them to happen. Some are tragedies that can be healed by time, some can be healed by the support around you, and some recover a little bit of with both time and love.

Sometimes, people run away from their emotions. They can't cope with the pain and the hurt and the overall effect it has on their entire lives, that they rather numb themselves, force themselves to not feel just so they could numb the pain. Whether they love or not we can't know unless we actually go through the situation, but maybe, just maybe, all they needed was someone who loves them, to show them how to live, how to breathe in the present.

Perhaps, these people, they just didn't get a chance to recover. Perhaps it was just wrong timing that brought them to a situation, where for a long period of time, they live on the surface.

We see a lot of that right now. That, being on the surface stuff. Social networks like Facebook, or texting, they don't give people a real chance to actually express how they feel. It's all on the surface, nothing beneath it. As we get older, we gradually begin to analyze our emotions, to know what exactly we're feeling. Some people don't get that chance, because they live on the surface, and they're just so carefree all the time that they don't stop and think for a moment.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little push for that someone to remember, or even let go. It's like a tiny trigger that's waiting to be pulled. You push the right buttons, purposely or not, and the trigger is pulled: the emotions release themselves. They start to remember, they recall everything that's happened, they gather their thoughts, they analyze themselves, and they begin to move on…and they live.

Unknowingly, Jared showed me what it felt like to love again. He showed me, through his own concern and desire to understand, that it was indeed a beautiful life, he taught me that I should live and let live. No one could change the past—perhaps, in the moment, anything could have happened—but the past was the past, and running away was never an option—I know that now. He made me laugh from the heart, which barely happened in the course of the past, and he taught me to appreciate life. That was something that stuck with me even after he left with his parents, and I began to really live in the moment.

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"Baxter, watch where you're- TIME OUT! Take 5, all of you, and make sure you don't play like girls again!" Coach Webbs roared, and turned away, scowling to himself. He caught sight of me, and his scowl instantly twisted to curiosity. "Well, well, well. Look who got detention again."

"Towel boy at your service," I mock-saluted him, and then I couldn't help it; I burst out laughing.

Coach Webbs glared at me, but his expression showed something really similar to a smile, which freaked me out. "None of that cheek from you, Ryans! What you got detention for?"

I shrugged. "I slept in class." He glared harder. I backtracked. "Well, what d'you expect, I just had a high fever a week ago!"

…Damn, maybe that excuse wasn't the best after all…

"Are you still sick?"

"No." Sheepishly.

"Then go get 'em towels!"

I dropped my bag beside the door, backing out, and instantly bumped into Dave.

Laughing, he straightened me up, and I looked up sheepishly at him. Yes, I am that short, shut it you.

"Towel duty again?" Dave asked.

I sighed dramatically. "I do it best, you know."

"Yeah, the way you push the towel cart in and just leave it there and do nothing, man, I wish I had your skills," Eddie teased.

"Not funny," I said, unable to hide a smile. "Just get in there already, I think Webbs is about to pull a nerve or something."

They walked around me, Fuller giving my ponytail a slight tug in greeting. "Welcome back, Leslie," Trent called teasingly, as they pushed the doors open and strode in.

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Our fight that night was the trigger that was hidden from view, for me and my family. It was, unintentionally, the closure that I –we- needed. For that reason only I owe Jared more than anything, because since my sister's death, that night was the first time I exhaled.

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"Mom, I'm- oof-"

I heard maniacal barking as I glared at the ceiling from the floor. Tag continued to run everywhere like a lunatic, and then his brown, furry face was in front of mine. Tag instantly started licking my face all over.

I wrenched myself upright and pulled Tag towards me. Holding the sides of his face, I seriously glared at him.

"Oh, so you think tripping me up is a fun thing to do, huh?" Tag barked and licked my nose. I wiped it off. "It's not funny. Not funny, Tag. OK, you know what I'm gonna do now? I'm gonna-" I broke off, as I realized that I wasn't alone in the living room.

David's amused face stared at me as I slowly turned red, and another pretty female face came in sight. My hand shot to the back of my head awkwardly.

"Uh," I said, standing up. Gently shoving Tag away with my foot, I walked past him and nodded awkwardly. "That was, uh—I don't usually talk to my—I-"

"Felicia, this is Leslie," David interrupted, and Felicia smiled. "Les, this is Felicia, my girlfriend."

Aforementioned girlfriend blushed slightly at that word, and I quelled an overdramatic 'awwwww!' in my head.

"Hi!" I shook hands with Felicia. "Nice to meet you. Just for the record, I don't always talk to my pet."

The pretty brunette laughed. "I've heard much about you," she said. "David told me all sorts of crazy things you used to do when you were little."

"Oh?" I said, making a mental note to cause bodily harm to David. "Don't listen to everything he says. He can be a real nutcase at times," I stage-whispered.

"Says the person who just talked to a dog," David answered calmly.

I shot him a glare. "Well, have fun you two." As I passed them both, I couldn't resist but to say, with a sweet smile, "oh and David, mom wanted me to tell you that your action figures are going in the dump if you don't remove them from your room."

I dodged the cushion that David threw at me, laughing along with Felicia, and made it to the kitchen, where I knew mom would be.

"…She's just joking," I heard David explain to Felicia, and I caught a 'you-are-dead' look from him.

"Sure she is," I heard Felicia reply, and laughed to myself.

"They are so cute," I said to no one in particular, walking in. I found dad sitting across the countertop and I joined him. "Hello dear father, how are you today?"

His warm smile instantly turned suspicious. "What did you today?"

I put a hand to my heart dramatically. "Dad. How could you—I got detention for sleeping in class."

He glared, but I could see a smile fighting behind it. "That's the last time I'm letting you stay up watching Mall Cop, young lady."

"Last night I was helping someone clean out the garage because moms scolded them for it, not watching Mall Cop," I stuck my tongue out playfully, and nodded towards the plate that was in front of him, frowning. It had greenish-looking stuff on it that looked like it was half-eaten. "What's that—"

"Hi, honey!" Moms' voiced sang out behind me as she entered the kitchen. "How was school?"

"Good," I said brightly, clasping my hands together. Moms opened the fridge and tossed me a can of Coke.

Dad raised his eyebrows at me. I shot him a don't-you-dare look.

"She got detention for sleeping in class," he said, green eyes twinkling.

"Snitch," I muttered in a low aside, just so he can hear. He mimicked me by sticking out his tongue at me. I rolled my eyes playfully.

"Leslie," moms said in a stern voice. "That's the last time I'm going to let your father let you stay up watching Mall Cop."

Oh for god's sake. I give up.

"Anyway," she continued, flicking a strand of red hair behind her shoulder, "you hungry? Of course you are," she said, before I could do more than open my mouth. "What do you want, honey? I made lasagna and waffles—your father had the lasagna—" she turned away to take a plate.

Dad's and my gaze simultaneously landed on the half-eaten plate with the greenish stuff in front of him. I looked up and he shook his head vigorously.

"I'll take the waffles," I quickly said. She set a plate of waffles in front of me and passed me a bottle of chocolate syrup.

…What? It's really delicious, OK, try it.

Pouring the syrup over the waffles, I slid my fork into it and pulled out a small piece. I raised my hand to my mouth under the hopeful gaze of mom and fearful anticipation from dad. Fearing for my own taste buds, I ate the piece and chewed.

…It…was…good.

I widened my eyes, chewing harder, and then I swallowed. "Wow, moms, this is actually—I mean, it's really good!"

"Thank you." She beamed at me, while dad pulled a skeptical look. "Finish up and wash up, now." Moms ruffled my hair and left the kitchen.

"You can drop it now," dad said wickedly. "How is it really?"

"It's good," I answered honestly. "Seriously—here, taste."

He looked at it dubiously. "After the lasagna, I think I'll pass."

"I heard that," moms' voice called from the living room. He winced. I laughed.

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Jared's decision to follow his parents back to New Zealand I could understand. He left the day after I came out of the hospital—he wanted to make sure that my fever was completely OK; that was a factor that made my heart close around the memory of him even more stronger. I went to the airport with him, together with Jay and his family, where Jules and Tom also took off (they would be getting married there as well) and we did not have a long goodbye.

I like to think that we parted on mutual terms, but in reality I was only half-hearted in letting him go. I loved him with all of my heart, which was why it didn't come as a surprise when I could almost feel my heart breaking into tiny little pieces, as I watched the plane take off from a distance with Jay.

I felt –and still feel- like a completely selfish cow whenever I think about him, because all I can do is wish that he was right here with me, so I could see him, touch him, kiss him, and just be with him, but now that I've reconnected in a way with my family, I can understand that he wants to be with his family.

The half-heartedness, anyway, was mutual—I think so, anyway. He didn't seem like he wanted to leave. I could tell that he was reluctant, but still… family is family. With him gone Concept in Doubt was also disbanded, but for the time being, everyone thought that it was for the best. So much of things had happened, and were going to happen (graduation) that we thought it was the best for everyone to let it all sink in first.

One thing that I did not consider, was that Jared was—is—a part of me. I don't think I can ever get him out of my heart and memories, not even if I fell in love with another man. Perhaps time will heal, but for now, I still remembered the feel of being in his strong arms. I was strong enough that I did not mope around with him gone, but sadly, I'm in too deep with him to completely forget. He's an inevitable part of me that I cannot avoid.

Like I said, perhaps time will heal. But for now…I'm just going to live and let live, because life was indeed beautiful.

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Popping bottles in the ice

Like a blizzard

When we drink we do it right getting slizz—

"Hi, Awesomely Macho," I answered my phone, chuckling. I made a note in my head to never let Jake near my phone again.

I heard his laughter before he answered. "Is everyone there yet?"

I tapped a random beat on the tabletop. "Yeah. Kevin and Jay went to buy the cake, but her shift's finishing in about ten minutes. Where are you anyway?"

"I just picked Matt up," he said, and I heard Matt yell "YO LESLIE!"

I laughed. "Tell him I said hi too."

"Will do. We should reach in about five."

"See you," and I hung up, just as Kevin and Jay walked in with a duck-egg blue box in his hands. We shared a wicked grin as he set the box down, out of view and they both took their place on the either side of me.

"Ready, my feisty?" Kevin grinned.

"Freaking duh. Matt and Jake are on their way. What cake did you buy?"

"Chocolate," Jay said, and I made a face. (Get used to it, OK? I'm weird like that.) "Wait till you see the greeting on it."

"Why?" I asked curiously, as Jay and Kevin shared a maniacal laugh. I frowned.

"You'll see, you'll see," he answered. When I scowled, Jay slung both arms around me and squeezed me, laughing. He immediately let go when I snapped at his hand.

"Don't make me bite you, Jay," I said.

He raised an eyebrow. "Try me."

"I'm not joking." Behind me, Kevin nodded vigorously.

"She's really not. I still have the scars."

Jay's dark eyes widened as he leaned away slowly. "…scary…evil… bitch…"

I lunged at him, laughing. "Jerk."

"Hi," we heard Jake's voice, as he and Matt walked inside the shop. "Are we late?"

"Nope," Kevin answered. "In fact, you're just on time." He turned to me and winked.

Understanding the signal, I gently carried the box and pulled out the cake and set it on the tabletop. It was a pretty cake, with white icing and red writing—until I saw the full greeting.

"Is that her full name?" I asked incredulously, to which Kevin and Jay responded with another maniacal laughter. Jake and Matt joined in as soon as they read it. "You realize that she's going to slaughter the both of you, don't you?"

They immediately sobered up.

"I didn't think of that," Jay said thoughtfully.

Matt coughed, as Jake wiped imaginary tears from his eyes. "Leslie, shouldn't you light the candles?"

"Oh yeah," I rubbed my chin. "Hey—why do I have do all of this? She's your girlfriend," I shot at Kevin.

"You're the girl here," he said, as if explaining the most obvious thing in the world. Glaring, I decided not to argue and instead, lit the candles.

"Shhh!" Kevin suddenly slapped my forearm, although I was not making any noise. I let it slide—Kevin's mother loved him, unfortunately. "She's coming!"

Sydney, having just finished her shift, walked out from the employee's room. Her gaze fell on us and she froze.

"Oh god no," she muttered audibly.

All of us wore the same wicked grin.

"One," said Jake.

"Two," said Jay.

"Three!" I finished, and we all started singing the birthday song. Sydney looked like she was about to die. We finished, cackling like maniacs, as we beckoned her to come closer. The entire place was silent, but we did not care. We were also attracting a lot of looks, but we pressed on harder. Why, you ask? Well, it's always the best friend's duty to annoy and embarrass, you see.

"Make a wiiiiish," Kevin sang giddily. I frowned at him and noticed a cup of coffee by his feet.

Well, that explains a lot. Damn boy.

Blushing furiously, she rolled her eyes, although it was clear that she was fighting a huge smile, and blew out all of the candles. And then, for the second time, she froze, her eyes fixed on the icing.

"Does that…say what I think it says?" she asked in horror.

I looked at the greeting and suppressed a smile. "Happy birthday, Sydney Roselle Parker."

"Yep, I'll say it does," Matt confirmed.

Sydney's murderous look slipped easily into a natural smile that I've never seen her wear. "Who did this wonderful surprise?"

Jake, Matt and I simultaneously pointed and Jay and Kevin.

Sydney shot them a sweet smile. "You do realize I'm going to decapitate the both of you."

As Jay and Kevin exchanged apprehensive looks, Sydney swiped a finger full of icing and swiped at nobody in particular; laughing, we dodged it and fell into chatter as she cut the cake and shared it.

I took a little icing and dabbed it on Matt's cheek. Playfully glaring, he wiped it off.

"I haven't seen you in a while," he said, as we ordered drinks and pizza to celebrate.

"You haven't," I agreed. "Where were you, living under a rock?"

"Yeah, under a pebble, to be specific," he said sarcastically, and we laughed. "So, how are things for you?" he asked, and simply the way he asked, that told me that he truly was concerned, made my heart warm out to Matt.

I considered him for a while, and gave him a genuine smile. "All is good, Matt."

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Author's Note: Thank you all for sticking with Love and Theft till the very end.