* prologue *

Mason Fatts sighed as he twirled his pencil around his fingers. The test that he was working on just wasn't the most important thing on his mind. He didn't notice, like he usually did, when people left when they were done with it. And he didn't watch the clock to see how much time he would have left to finish. A meteor could have fallen from the sky and burnt the school down to the ground and it was doubtful that he'd even care. If he was brooding, he figured he had every right in the world to be brooding.

He had been dumped.

How pathetic was he that his boyfriend of three years had decided to break up out of the blue like this? There wasn't any reason for it, not really. In fact, Mace had thought that everything had just been plain peachy between them. There hadn't been any fights or that awkward silent moment. Addison had been walking him to class and then…"I don't think its working. Maybe we should talk about a break."

At that time, he had been in too much shock to do much else other than just enter the lecture hall numbly, finding his seat. Now, what was he supposed to do? He and Addison had gotten an apartment near campus, so they wouldn't have to deal with dorms. So he was going to have to move out…maybe see if there was a dorm open that he could live in.

Sighing again, he wrote an answer on the paper in front of him. Funny how much the entire day had just gone from being bright and sunny to completely shitty. Any moment now and he was going to take his pencil and shove it through his eye. That would certainly be a sight to see in the middle of a psychology class. Would Professor Kanserman use him as an example of a troubled young man? Well, if he was thinking about personal harm, then he probably was troubled. Very troubled.

Without really actually thinking about it, he glanced up at the clock, realizing that he only had another ten minutes until class was over. The surprise of it broke through the mental block that he had built up and he stared down at the test. Frowning, he quickly scanned over the remaining questions. He scribbled down answers, thinking that he could probably afford a bad grade.

At least, he really hoped he could afford a bad grade because there was no way that he was going to be getting a good grade on this one. He wasn't even going to finish. He managed to get about halfway through when time was called. Folding up the test booklet, he grabbed his backpack, shouldering it as he stood up. He dropped the test on the chair that Kanserman had set out for completed tests. Then he left, heading towards the cafeteria out of habit instead of actually thinking about it.

In the cafeteria, he stared at the few restaurants that the college had before numbly heading toward Taco Bell. His friend absolutely swore that a cheesy, fat-filled taco was the only thing that would work against a break up. Since he hadn't had one since his junior year of high school, there wasn't any reason for him to test that theory out. But he trusted his friend, so he got a taco.

When he sat down at an empty table, he just stared down at it like he didn't know what it was. After a long moment of silence, someone slid into the metal chair on the other side of the table, the metal legs making a screeching sound on the floor. Glancing up, he tried to force a smile on his face for Emma's benefit, but she lifted an eyebrow. "Either someone killed your puppy," she said, "Or someone in your family just died."

He didn't answer at first. He unwrapped his lunch, then took a bite just to give himself time to think of a way that he could tell her a lie. Nothing came to mind so he muttered, "Addison wants a break."

She gasped. Her amber eyes widened in surprise and her glossed lips parted. "But…" she said slowly, like she couldn't believe him. "You guys were like…the golden couple." She reached out and snagged the taco out of his hand, and took a bite. "You two were the last shining beacon of hope that I had about maybe finding that one person who was meant for me. If you and Addison aren't soul mates, then put me in a tux and call me a penguin."

"That's mine, Madame Penguin." He ignored her little rant and reached out for it but she smacked his hand away. When she ate more of it, he scowled. "I thought you said that's the only thing that works for a breakup."

"It is," she answered, finally giving it up, "And it also works wonders for broken dreams." Standing up, she pointed down at him. "Now stay…I'm going to go get me a burger."

He rolled his eyes at her as she left, feeling a smile wanting to sneak up on him. Only Emma could make him smile when he had the urge to lie down in front of a bulldozer. By the time she returned with her lunch and two large cups of soda, he had finished his food and just sat there, staring blankly off into space, thinking back about all the good times that he and Addison had had during the last three years. Was Addison thinking about breaking up when he said that he and Mace should get an apartment together?

Emma slammed one of the soda cups down in front of him. "You, drink." At his confused expression, she sighed. "It's a milkshake. Oreo. Drink it and let's get you so full of sugar that you fall into a coma." She motioned towards the cup with her burger. She took a bite, her eyes focused on him. If she was waiting for him to break down into tears, she didn't show it.

"I'm up for that plan." He took a drink, careful to keep his face blank. He knew that if he started to show too much emotion around Emma, the rest of it would just be pulled right out of him. She was just that kind of person, just making it too easy for him to show each and every one of his feelings. Because she was too nice to tell him to grow a set, she'd let him rant until he ran out of breath. So he was going to try to keep his baggage away from her.

Her chewing slowed down, and she reached out, covering his hand with her own. "Are you okay?" she asked carefully, reaching out to cover his hand with her own.

He shrugged, swallowing painfully. "Not really, but I'll bounce back."

"You wanna talk about it?" Her eyes were worried, more from his lack of reaction than to anything else. Usually, she could tell what Mace was thinking about. She could do it now, and that made it so much harder for her to think that he would bounce back. "I have two perfectly good ears and two gorgeous shoulders."

He laughed quietly under his breath and pulled his hand away. "I know you have gorgeous shoulders," he told her, forcing a smile on his face. He sighed and slid down in his seat, the back of his head pressing against the back of the chair. He closed his eyes. "It was just… so sudden," he murmured, just loud enough for her to hear it while he stared at the ceiling.

"How sudden?" she asked, her voice low.

"Like we were talking about Kanserman's class then…time for a break." He tossed his hands into the air, accidently knocking's Emma's hand off. "Completely just…time for a break. It's not working, he told me. Not working. It certainly seemed to be working from my end." He had to stop talking because otherwise he knew he was going to cry. But he wasn't going to, at least not until he was alone.

It sounded like Emma choked in surprise. "I'm going to go rip his balls off," she muttered even though she wasn't making any move to get up.

His chuckle was weak as he covered his face with his hands. "Don't," he whispered. "Just…leave him alone, please." He stood up, even though he had no idea where he was going to go. Anywhere would be okay, just as long as he was alone. He shouldn't have gone to the cafeteria first; he should have gone anywhere else. His vision blurring, he blindly grabbed his bag, swinging up onto his back. He had made it out of the cafeteria, heading towards the front of the campus, where his car was parked. Where Addison had ridden with him this morning.

Well, screw Addison. He could walk for all Mace cared. While he was walking, he could also get hit by a bus.

Throat tight, Mace kept walking, the cool air making him pull his jacket tighter around him, then he paused when he realized that Emma had her arm around his shoulders, gently leading him in another direction, away from parking and towards the dorms. "I'm fine," he said, not knowing where they were going but just wishing that she wasn't there.

She gave him a look that told him just how much she believed him, which was none at all. "C'mon," she said as they walked briskly into the building. "You do not need to be driving."

"I'm fine," he repeated; it sounded empty to his own ears. Shaking his head, he tried to shrug her arm off of him but she wouldn't let him. "Really."

"It's a good thing that I don't have a class next because I am getting you some ice cream and some tissues and we're going to plan his slow painful death." One handed, she unlocked a door and pushed Mace inside ahead of her. Before he could say anything, her hand grabbed his keys off of where they were clipped to his backpack. "Stay here," she commanded, "I'll be back in half an hour." She paused in the doorway. After a moment, she gave him a hug, muttering how sorry she was, before she pulled away and left, shutting the door behind her.

Even though she hadn't right out and said it, he knew that she had only left him alone so that he could get whatever out that needed to get out before she got back. Give him privacy. Even as he grinned and wondered how he had met someone like that, he collapsed back on the pale green couch, leaning forward to press his eyes against his knees.

Why had Addison done this to him? Had Mace done something…anything that Addison didn't like? They had been together for three years and Mace had thought that they were in love. He had even followed Addison to this college, instead of going to the one he had originally been planning on and hadn't even complained. It had been his choice. Addison hadn't asked Mace to come, but the happiness on his face when Mace did had made it worth it.

He cried, aching as he thought about every single moment that he and Addison had shared. How long had Addison been thinking about a break? How long had Mace been missing signs? Had there been any signs, or was this some sort of spur-of-the-moment decision? Mace didn't want to know the answer, because he wasn't sure which one would hurt him more. He was hurting enough already. He loved Addison so much. Now, he was going to have to go without seeing Addison, the one face he knew would be there every day.

When his quiet sobs turned into broken gasping, he sat up, keeping his eyes closed. There were too many things running through his mind for him to really think beyond the fact that he was alone. He didn't have someone to curl up to in the middle of the night, or someone to tell his most secret fears to, or someone just to laugh with over a joke that didn't make sense. It surprised him when he realized that, while he still felt the heartbreak, there weren't any more tears.

By the time that Emma walked back in, ten minutes after he had pulled himself together, he was dry eyed and staring up at the posters of a pop band on her roommate's side of the room. All of them showed ETERNAL at various stages of their year-long career, and all of them were signed, a few had doodles drawn on them at the bottom and one had a little haiku.

Wonderful Ash Bash

My cute little Orange Bird

Don't grow up too fast

He turned to look at her as she tossed a duffle bag – his duffle bag, he realized – onto the floor. When he lifted his eyebrows, she shrugged. "I figured you'd need a place to stay for a while. I'm offering up our futon." She gestured towards the green couch. She sat down, pulling a carton of vanilla ice cream out of a plastic Walgreen's bag looped around her wrist. "Come and enjoy."

"You broke into my apartment?" he asked, eyes narrowing slightly. It almost hurt to talk, but he ignored it. Walking over to the duffle, he picked it up, put it on the couch, and unzipped it. Inside were some of his clothes and his toothbrush. "You really broke into my apartment?" Well, Addison's apartment now….

Emma grabbed a spoon in the shape of an elephant from the bag, handing it off to him. "I had your keys," she explained seriously, even as she opened the ice cream. Her spoon was a monkey as she dug into the frozen dessert.

Somehow Mace managed to grin. "I don't deserve you," he said slowly. She had given him privacy, and then had done everything she could think of to make it easier on him. Including going to the apartment and getting his clothes so he wouldn't' have to go himself.

"I know you don't," she told him, "But I didn't deserve someone who'd try to tutor me in econ."

They sat in silence for a moment before Mace's eyes were drawn back towards the wall of posters. "So I'm guessing your roommate likes ETERNAL?" he asked, motioning towards the posters. If the shift in conversation kept him safe from talking about Addison or anything relationship related.

The door opened and a petite girl with short, spiky dark hair and almond shaped brown eyes balanced on a pair of wedges bounced in, a black fuzzy purse over her shoulder and talking on the phone. "Shut up, Apricot Polar Bear!" she said loudly, not even noticing the people on the couch while she walked over to the bed under the posters, tossing her bags on it. "There's no way that…you're kidding!" She tipped her head back, laughing.

Emma leaned towards him, whispering. "That's my roommate, Ashlyn Jemmin." She paused and then managed to lean a little bit closer. "And she's beyond a fan of ETERNAL; she's the lead singer's sister."

Suddenly Ashlyn turned around and froze when she saw them. "I'll call you back, sis," she said, "Emma's with a strange guy…I guess she forgot to put the 'do not disturb' sign on the door knob." She laughed again. "Yeah, I'm gonna jump in for an orgy. Don't worry, I've got condoms. See you." She flipped the phone shut with a quick flick of her wrist, giving them an expectant look. "Really, Em, I thought I already told you about sex. Ice cream is not the way you do it."

Mace was too shocked to say anything, but Emma was laughing. After a long moment, she managed to calm down enough to explain the entire situation. Afterward, Ash was sitting next to him, giving him a hug. "I'm so sorry," she told him, reaching over for a spoon. Randomly, Mace wondered how many animal themed spoons Emma had gotten. "You can stay here as long as you want."

"Thanks," he muttered. Well, that was one problem solved.

* Author's Note *

Who can guess where Mace first showed up? Hmmmm? Anyways, the prologue is done...and I'm off to work on Paige and Brandon's story. I really need a Beta for this, and I'm trying desperately to find one only no one really seems to want to. Sigh. I'm heart broken. If anyone's interested, please email me. Please and THANK YOU!

Also, thanks for reading!