The torture flick, for the record, was research. I wanted to do bad things to Ally. I mean really horrible things that make me sick to my stomach to think about now. Jealous did not even begin to cover it. I assumed, as anyone would have, that she'd slept with him. The thought made me physically sick. From what Marcus told you, you know I mean that literally.

I had dreams that night of the two of them together, dreams that made me wake up every hour, sweating. I was aching, stomach clenching like I was fiercely hungry but it wasn't food that I needed.

So, yeah, it put me in a bad mood and I was pissy and childish the next day. Then he goes and invites her over. I almost lost my mind when he said she was coming. I really did. All I could see was the two of them together and all I knew was that he apparently liked her enough to call her over the very next day.

I will acknowledge, at this point, that the nightclub was a bad idea. I thought it would help me get over Marcus, since I didn't have a chance with him. I had no idea that instead I'd become certifiable.

Then, Marcus had to go and kiss Alex. Worse, Alex got this look on his face right before they kissed like he knew it was going to kill me and he kind of enjoyed the idea. Marcus says the kiss was awkward but it didn't look that way. He bent down to Alex's level, put one hand on the side of his face and actually, really kissed him. No tongue, granted, because trust me, I was looking that closely, but to neither was it a kiss you'd give your mother. In that moment, I contemplated tricking Marcus into eating A Team stew, until I realized that even if he wasn't suspicious he wouldn't eat it because it contained meat.

A second plan involved two shallow graves in the back yard, a roll of duct tape, and stealing Marcus's car, since it had a back seat and mine didn't. It would be hours before any of us were missed. Marcus and I could be halfway across the country by then.

No, I wasn't really considering killing them out of jealousy. It was all just wishful thinking. I certainly can't justify it but jealousy isn't rational, and I wasn't either.

When Alex left for the evening, I followed him out. "You didn't answer my question earlier."

He didn't pretend not to know what I meant. The look on his face was sympathetic, which really only made it worse. "You're going to be mad at me whatever I say," he acknowledged. "Despite that, the truth is that it wasn't to me what it would have been to you but damn, even knowing how pissed at me you must be right now, it was worth it."

It would be a lie to say that the thought of punching him wasn't somewhere in the back of my mind but some part of me knew that none of this was really his fault, just like none of it was really Ally's fault and that was the part that let him go without another word.

That night I was restless, unable to sleep, and I spent the time planning every detail of the climbing expedition that was coming up in only three days. In fact, I spent a part of those next three days making lists, checking maps and making sure all the gear was in good repair and packed into my mom's SUV. Marcus, Alex, and my friend Chuck were going on the trip. Chuck's girlfriend, Dawn, had been planning to come but her grandmother had fallen ill and her whole family was on bedside vigil, not certain the old lady would outlast the week.

When I wasn't working on the trip, I was channeling Marcus. I cut myself off from the world, not talking to anyone unless I had to, closed off in my room and frequently borrowing his movies to watch or his music to listen to. Those things suited my mood.

Marcus bore my mood with surprising patience, frequently cooking dinner for us both on nights when Mom worked late and ignoring my dark looks. I didn't have the nightmare with Marcus and Ally again but instead was plagued with wish-fulfillment dreams that always made me a little sad and disgusted when I woke up and discovered that they weren't real.

Alex had almost nothing to say to me those days but braved my presence to keep me for driving Marcus to suicide with my depressiveness. He was sympathetic my feelings but that only carries a man so far.

The day before we left to go on our trip, I was home by myself when the doorbell rang. I opened the door to find Ally standing on the other side. "Marcus isn't here," I told her. "He and Alex are shopping for trip supplies."

"I know. I'm here to talk to you. Can I come in?"

I'd never been less than civil to Ally to her face so I backed up and let her in, waiting until she had settled on the couch to take the chair beside it. I was curious what she could possibly have to say to me but I never imagined the first beautiful words that came out of her mouth.

"Would it make you hate me less if I told you that I didn't sleep with Marcus?"

I blinked at that, very intelligently. "Excuse me?" Yes, I was playing the 'I'm-not-in-love-with-my-housemate' game because I'm an idiot like that.

"I didn't sleep with Marcus. You know, sex? Didn't happen. I won't deny the thought crossed my mind for about the first thirty seconds I knew him but I didn't take long to figure out that wasn't going to work at all."

"Why are you telling me this?" I knew, of course. I hadn't known that Ally knew how I felt about Marcus but I was figuring it out pretty quick.

"Don't be an ass, Chandler. I'm not stupid. You're into Marcus. That's why you've been moping and angry ever since the night we met. I think I've even got Marcus convinced of it, finally, which means that the only thing there is left for you to do is stop being a pissy little girl and give the man an opportunity to approach you."

"Approach me," I repeated, still missing some key points.

"My god, Chandler, are you honestly telling me that you don't know he's crazy about you?" Ally exclaimed. "He only looks at you like the sun shines out your ass. He talks about you all the time, says you make him feel normal, which is quite a feat because Marcus is a nice guy but he's a little weird and he knows it."

I shook my head. "Marcus is interesting, not weird. Yesterday he told me that if people could figure out a way to reanimate dead animals they could have fresh meat all the time in places there are no grocery stores. Who thinks of things like that? And he doesn't even eat meat."

She smiled a little. "I wasn't completely convinced, but I am now. You said that like he thought of something wonderful. But you're ignoring the bigger issue here. You like Marcus. He likes you. What are you going to do about it?"

"Are you sure? That he likes me I mean?" I had my doubts, personally. Marcus liking me: plain, ordinary Chandler Lake was a little like a butterfly falling in love with a moth. No, I am not obsessed with butterflies. It just happens to work as an analogy.

"I was sure within ten minutes of meeting him and would have been even if he hadn't told me himself."

That stopped me cold. "He told you?" Suddenly, I was having flashbacks to high school, when a romantic rival told me that a guy we both knew I didn't have a chance with liked me in an effort to get me to embarrass myself and alienate the guy in question. It hadn't worked then. Of course, I hadn't wanted to believe that half as much as I wanted to believe Ally.

She was looking at me with such sincerity that I wanted to believe. I just had to decide if I dared. And if I dared, I had to decide what to do about it.

"That doesn't even make sense," I sighed. "He can't possibly have meant it, if he really did say it."

"What's your middle name?" Ally asked suddenly.

"Robert," I told her, wondering what on earth that had to do with anything.

"Chandler Robert Lake, are you an idiot?!?!" she demanded. "Alex can see that Marcus is hopeless where you're concerned. I can certainly see it. Why can't you?"

"Because it doesn't make any sense," I repeated. "And because, if you're right and he likes me and I am completely in love with him, then I've already messed up the best thing that could have ever happened to me."

I was, if anything, more depressed than before. Marcus not being a possibility for me meant I hadn't messed that possibility up.

"You've been a little insufferable to him but it's nothing he can't forgive, particularly since it was motivated by jealousy," Ally was saying.

I looked at her, knowing that I was close to breaking down into tears. Dammit, I believed her. "That's not it. I- I- did something that I've regretted almost since the moment I did it and certainly since I actually met Marcus. I'm going to fix it, I really am, but when Marcus finds out he's not going to want anything to do with me anymore and I don't blame him. He'll hate me."

Her eyebrows furrowed as she frowned. "You'd better tell me now," she demanded.

It was the last thing I wanted to do. Okay, so maybe not the last thing but it was nestled somewhere between lighting my face on fire and never seeing Marcus again. Still, I bit the bullet and told her. Ally is optimistic by nature, bless her, and though she didn't approve she thought that Marcus might, conceivably, speak to me again one day in the distant future once he found out.

We talked for a long time after that, and not just about Marcus. Once jealousy was out of the way, I discovered that I like Ally a lot. In fact, she was more or less one of my best friends from then on.

She was still there when Marcus and Alex returned from their trip. They were both glad to see her and I swear Marcus was smiling when he walked in to find us laughing together. He probably wouldn't have if he'd known I was telling her about our raid of his mother's house.

Not two minutes after the guys arrive, Ally excused herself, winking and grinning broadly at Marcus and then ushering Alex out with her with a whispered word.

Once the A Team was gone, I cleared my throat, nervous. "Hey, Marcus? Can we talk for a minute? I have something I need to tell you."

His eyebrows shot up but the rest of his face remaining almost shockingly neutral. He took the chair opposite me and waited patiently, expectantly.

"I did something stupid," I told him. "I knew it was stupid when I did it but I didn't think it would be a big deal. Maybe it wouldn't, for some people, but I think it will be for you and I know it's a huge deal for me, now that I know you."

I paused, quite frankly afraid to name my sin, more afraid that what I was going to say was going to hurt him. Marcus's face hadn't changed. He simply said, "Go on."

I wet my lips and just said it. "Your mom has been paying me to try to make you be 'normal', whatever that is. She picks things that she wants you to do to broaden your cultural horizons and it's my job to get you there. I'm supposed to steer you away from your normal style of clothes and taste in music and movies and such. Thing is, your horizons seem pretty broad to me and I like your music and…well, yes, your movies do quite frankly freak me out sometimes but they suit you and I don't want you to change unless you want to."

"You…are my mother's creature," he said blankly, phrasing it in that odd, cute little way he has of putting things.

"No. No, not anymore. I'll stop taking the money and dragging you to all those places."

"How much?" he asked. "What price does my mom put on normalcy?"

"Fifty bucks a week plus expenses," I told him.

Marcus gave a laugh that was half surprised, half bitter. "My mom is willing to shell out fourteen hundred dollars a year for normalcy? Don't you dare stop taking the money. It's too good a deal to pass up. I'll keep attending the events, too, so you're on the up and up with Mom."

"Deal, as long as you take the money. I don't want anything to do with it. That's blood money, as far as I'm concerned."

I found myself staring at him as he thought about what I'd said. "I'm trying to decide if I'm upset about this," he said at last. "And if I am, whether I'm just upset with Mom or with you, too. Can I have a day to think about it? While we're on the trip, we'll pretend it didn't happen and then I'll get back to you."

"Okay," I agreed, subdued. "As long as you understand that I really am sorry and I don't want you to change."

He nodded faintly and went to the fridge to find a snack. And that, as they say, was that.