~Laser Tag My Heart~

I was standing behind one of the walls with the glow-in-the-dark graffiti on it, gripping my laser gun like it was the key to my survival. Which, technically, it was. I'd done a good job so far, you know, hiding in the corner. Ryan Davies didn't seem to appreciate that because apparently I wasn't helping out the team.

Psh, yeah right. I still had three lives left and how many did everyone else have? Actually that was a good question. I hadn't seen anyone from any of the teams for at least twenty minutes.

I could hear people running around, occasionally yelling out that they'd been shot. The yellow team had weird code names like 'Jockey Strap' and 'Jelly Tights'. Every now and then you'd hear someone yell, "Karate Belt's taken one to the chest!" or something like that. I think it was Yanick Farah's idea. I wouldn't be surprised.

By the sound of things, the yellow team wasn't going very well, but that might've just been because all the other teams went down quietly. I fiddled with my laser gun, wondering what it would be like to actually use it. I could emerge for a few seconds, shoot someone, rub it in Ryan Davies' face that I helped, then retreat back to my corner and silently win the game.

It seemed like a pretty good plan, so I cautiously stuck my head out, then followed with my body when I saw the coast was clear. I looked left, then right, then got shot in the chest. I looked down at my fading lights, surprised, and wondering who the hell had shot me. I wouldn't be surprised if it was Ben Jennings. He was just a ninja like that.

Anyway, that officially scared me back into my corner for the rest of the game. I didn't like being so vulnerable, and I was honestly surprised the others had managed to last so long, considering how easy it was to get shot. But still, I had two lives left.

After a while of sulking, my lights came back on, and I could hear someone close by, breathing really heavily, even though you weren't technically allowed to run in here. I crept around to the left a little, trying to catch a glimpse of who it was.

I almost fell over in hysterics when I saw Ingrid Riley covered in war paint. She was on the blue team, and they seemed to think it was a good idea to get really into it. Peter Moran dubbed himself 'Colonel Moran' and started ordering his 'troops' around. Ingrid had turned to me and said, "I like a man who leads." She was a strange one.

I took aim at her back and pulled the trigger, retreating quickly behind the wall and listening to the sweet sound of her surprise. Now I could tell Ryan I'd helped. The speaker announced that Ingrid Riley was out and I giggled even more. She was going to chuck a spaz once she realised I was the one who took her last life.

She was the first to go, which I knew would really piss her off, especially since she was trying to impress Colonel Moran. It was a little surprising considering the large proportion of giggling girls who didn't even know how to hold the gun. But they weren't really as stupid as they looked, because they had tactics, being to latch onto a guy and make him 'protect' them. Greg Neils was perfectly happy to have Fraya Kitson follow him around. You could practically hear his smug smirk when he said, "Ms Kitson, do not fear. I shall protect you." No surprises she giggled.

After Ing went, there followed a quick succession of people, from red, blue and yellow equally. Actually, that's not quite right: the red team was dominating, and I couldn't help but feel I played a large part in that.

Ryan Davies didn't seem to think so, judging by his constipated face as he stood in front of me and realised I still hadn't moved. I gave him a weary smile and he blew steam out of his nose.

"Stop being such a wuss, Deli." He scowled.

"Hey! I got Ingrid out!" That constipated look on his face? Definitely admiration. He was totally in awe at my skills.

"Come on, even Fraya and Polly are out getting into it. Don't be such a scaredy-cat." He looked at me smugly and I scrunched up my nose at him.

"I'm not scared." But it's a lie! Don't believe it! I'm scared out my mind! "It's called tactics, Ryan."

"Oh, come on. That's such a lie."

I pointed to his shield where a little '1' was flashing. "You have one life left." I pointed out. "I have two. Why? Because I'm more tactical than you. I don't just run around hoping the others have bad aim."

He snorted and shook his head. "Maybe," He said mischievously, "Or maybe, you're avoiding a certain someone." He waggled his eyebrows at me and I scowled. Okay, so I may have been trying not to cross paths with Zach Benson, but that was none of his business, even if Zach was his best friend.

I stood up from my safe, comfy haven, just to show Ryan he was wrong. He laughed and shook his head at me. "Why don't you guys just make up already and save the school from another one of your stupid fights?"

"They're not stupid." I mumbled and he looked at me incredulously.

"Your last fight went on for a week and a half because Zach was angry you wouldn't go to the finals game after party, and you were angry that he was trying to order you around."

"Well first, I had to go to my dad's special business gathering thing, and second, I'm not some kid he can control." I grumbled, my laser gun hanging limply from my hand.

"No, but you guys are best friends. He just wanted you to celebrate with him."

"Old friends. Not best friends."

He rolled his eyes at me. "Cut him some slack, would ya? You know what he's like."

"Yeah: rude and selfish. All he ever cares about is himself. Why can't he just be happy for me? Why can't he throw me a compliment once in a while?" Ryan opened his mouth but I cut him off. "I know, I know: Zach doesn't do that. I get it. But we've been friends for, what, ten, twelve years now? Sometimes I just get sick of his mood swings. Honestly, Ryan, how do you put up with it?"

He shrugged and looked away. It was a stupid question really, since I knew perfectly well that Zach didn't treat Ryan the same way he treated me. "Do you ever think sometimes you're the one who's being selfish?" Ryan said, looking at me sideways. I gave him a strange look and he shrugged again. "Just saying."

"Well don't say." I grumbled.

"Now who's being moody?" He mumbled back. "Just, come out of your hiding place will ya? Zach's practically crying because you've been avoiding him for three weeks." Three weeks was like a lifetime for us.

"Zach doesn't cry, not even practically. I don't think he even feels."

Ryan winced visibly. "Ouch. A little harsh there, Deli." I scrunched my nose in agreement. Of course he felt. He felt devastated when his sister Molly died. He felt ecstatic when he scored the winning goal for his soccer team. He felt angry when I said it wasn't that impressive. He felt guilty when he indirectly called me a slut. Well, at least I think he did. He would never admit it though.

"Do you even know what we're fighting about?" I asked Ryan. Around us, the speaker was announcing other outs, and in the back of my mind I wondered who was left.

"No." Ryan scowled. "He wouldn't tell me. He just sits in his room sulking." That came as a surprise. He was probably just pissed he didn't have anyone to make him cookies and orange juice anymore.

"He told me I was boring." I said.

Ryan raised his eyebrows incredulously. "Is that all?"

"No." I scowled, remembering when I'd gone over to his house to apologise for insulting his soccer skills. Apparently I emasculated him. We got on well, like usual, his music filling up his room while we played Mario Cart, sitting on a pile of pillows and eating the cookies I'd brought. Then he called me boring, in typical Zach fashion, and it escalated to some huge shouting match, because we were Zach and Deli and we always blew things out of proportion. I blamed the sexual tension, but I would never say that out loud because Zach would give me a pity look, you know, the kind that says 'you're sadly deluded, you poor child', and then he would kill me for getting all mushy and probably never speak to me again. Well, duh, 'cause I'd be dead.

"Of course that's not all." Ryan mumbled. "You guys need to get over yourselves and stop holding grudges. Why don't you just make out already?" I spluttered and coughed, looking incredulously up at Ryan's smirking face. "Oh, come on. It's not like it's not obvious. I'm smarter than I look, you know."

I was too surprised to even scoff at that. I just stared at Ryan open-mouthed, like some weird, scaly fish. I shook my head at him. "Not after this fight, Ryan." Then, a little depressingly, though I would never admit it, I added, "I don't think we're going to come out of this one."

Ryan tilted his head as the speaker called out that James Kennedy was out, and somewhere in the large, dark room, someone called out, "Opal Tits is on a roll!" Three guesses who that was: Kyle Freight.

"I may have, sort of, kinda, maybe, perhaps hinted, or, you know, explicitly said, or shouted, that it might have been his fault, partially, that, um, Molly, um, you know, died." I cleared my throat and fiddled with my laser gun, not daring to look into Ryan's face. I knew what I'd see: pure, sheer shock and disappointment. Obviously, it wasn't Zach's fault his sister got hit by a car, and I felt like a major bitch for suggesting that it was, because it had taken months to convince him it wasn't his fault, after she passed away on the operating table.

I peeked up at Ryan and his mouth was hanging open, like he couldn't quite believe what he'd just heard. "Why would you do that?" He asked softly. I shouldn't have said anything because now Ryan was going to hate me forever.

"Well, to be fair – " he scoffed and I winced; he was making me feel even worse. "He told me I was an attention seeking whore because no one wanted me, not even my parents, and I was an accident anyway, and even my foster parents passed me around like some disposable piece of rubbish, and well…I just…got really mad."

Ryan closed his mouth and opted to raise his eyebrows dubiously instead. "I don't get you two." He stated after a while. "All you ever do is hurt each other. You should at least say sorry." I nodded; I knew that, I just had to scrounge up the courage to look into Zach's probably livid face.

He hesitated a bit, then turned and left. I let myself sink to the ground. I missed Zach; sure, we weren't exactly your typical friends, but when it came down to it, we were always there for each other. In a non-mushy sort of way, because Zach is one hundred percent against mush. But when the source of hurting was each other, we couldn't exactly be there for one another.

After a bit, the speaker announced that Ryan Davies was out, followed closely by a whole succession of people. Something fishy was going on, I could tell, and my suspicions were confirmed when Ryan walked past and told me it was just me and Zach left, all alone in this dark, dark place with many corners and hidey-holes.

And then the rest of the people in my year walked past on their way out and said things along the same lines. Kyle Freight, or 'Opal Tits', didn't say anything. He just thrust his hips back and forth in typical perverted Kyle-fashion. This was so embarrassing.

Sure, it was no secret that Zach and I were fighting, again, but since when was it obvious we wanted to jump each other? It certainly wasn't obvious to me, but maybe everyone else could read Zach more easily than I could.

I groaned and put my head in my hands, not really looking forward to what came next. But I knew I had to get up and find him because he was too proud to make the first move. Besides, I think what I said was a lot more horrible and mean.

I wandered around cautiously, feeling vulnerable and scared that Zach might jump out at any moment. I did a quick check of the place, which wasn't all that big, but it suddenly felt so much bigger. I couldn't find him, even after a second check. The only thing left to do was call out.

I took a deep breath and scrunched my eyes shut. "Zach." I said somewhat quietly. This was harder than I had anticipated. "Zach." No answer. "Come on, Zach. Don't be such a sook." I winced at my own words; good one Deli, that's the way. Insult him. It'll make things so much better.

Truth was, I was still kind of mad about what he'd said. And mad about the fact that I was always the one apologising. Our fights never seemed to affect him as much as they did me.

I suddenly heard a noise; a small noise, like feet shuffling. I took a step towards it. "Zach?" I said softly, listening as hard as I could. I felt silly. I felt like we were playing hide-and-seek or something. Not that Laser Tag was much more grown-up, but the school had insisted we go as an end-of-trials-please-don't-stop-working-so-hard present.

"Zach." I said again. I don't how, but I swear I felt him tense. I quickly rounded the corner, holding my gun out in front like I thought he might kill me. And he did. Well, he shot me with his laser gun and my lights faded.

"Piss off Adele." Ooh. Proper name; he was really pissed.

He was sitting on the ground, his gun aimed at me, waiting for my lights to come back on so he could shoot me and end the game. "Don' t shoot me, Zach." I ground out. You want me to cut him some slack, Ryan? How can I when he won't cut me any?

"Why not?" He said bitterly.

I scrunched my eyes shut and pinched the bridge of my nose. Taking a deep, painful breath, I said, "Please?" I opened one eye and he was staring at me stonily, in typical Zach fashion, contemplating whether or not to hear me out.

I felt stupid in my Laser Tag gear, being scrutinised by Zach Benson. My lights suddenly came back on and his gun was still pointed at me. I dropped mine, letting it hang from my gear, and, feeling incredibly, increasingly stupid, I put my hands in the air, giving Zach an intense stare. He stared right back.

"What do you want?" He said after a while.

I wasn't quite ready to say sorry just yet, so I hesitated. "Can I sit down?" This was stupid. It was stupid that I had to ask my best friend if I could sit next to him. It was stupid that I had to be so polite and understanding, when all I ever got in return was a grunt. If I was lucky.

Apparently I wasn't lucky today, because he didn't grunt. Instead he put his laser gun on the ground and let his head fall into his hands, his elbows propped up on his knees. I didn't hesitate to sit; he was always changing his mind.

I felt awkward, sitting next to him in silence with nothing to say. There was a lot I wanted to say, but it wouldn't be the right thing to do because I'd either make him angry or scare him away. He had the upper hand here: he could shoot me and end this at any time.

On a whim, I turned and shot him. He looked up disgustedly as his lights faded, and I shrugged. "Fair's fair." I said, because now we both had one life left. I was hoping he'd get the message that I wasn't just here to apologise; I was still pissed at him, and I wanted the power to end this any time as well.

We sat in silence again. It was kind of like everything was normal, except the silence wasn't comfortable; it was tense and horrible and long. And also, we were both wearing Laser Tag gear.

Our knees accidentally touched and he flinched away, like I was a piece of filth plagued with disease. I didn't think he knew just how much that hurt me. It was like he was confirming what he'd said to me weeks ago, about how no one even cared what happened to me.

He didn't know I'd gone home and cried. He probably hadn't even guessed it; how could he? It wasn't like I cried very much. Sometimes I thought maybe he was testing my boundaries, doing all these things to hurt me just so he could see how far he could go before I broke down into tears. He'd finally cracked me this time, even if he hadn't known it.

Besides, it was a violation of trust. Knowing so much about each other, we had things we could hold over the other's head. Like with Molly, and how he was supposed to be watching her at the park. And with my foster parents; I didn't seem to be able to hold onto any for more than a year. I knew it was nothing personal, but sometimes it made me wonder. But these were things you weren't supposed to use against a friend. And that was just what we'd done.

And the thing was, it hurt more coming from a friend, especially someone like Zach, who was always brutally honest. Like the time I'd stayed up all night, drinking coffee and Red Bull, trying desperately to finish my geography project, which I'd put off doing for so long. I rocked up to school in a fragile state, and he'd turned to me and said, "What the fuck, Deli? You look shit."

But there were times when I liked his honesty; it made things so much simpler. Like when I'd been going steady with Jared Thomas for three weeks and then one day we were just standing around chatting, him and me and Zach and Ryan and Ingrid, and very, very calmly, stonily, like he always was, Zach turned and punched Jared in the nose. He staggered back, gripping his face in pain, and I stared at Zach in shock. We'd been talking about bowling shoes. It was just so unexpected.

Zach, to his credit, didn't even flinch. He just stared down at Jared, leaning against the wall casually. "He was cheating on you, Del." He said just as casually.

"Oh." I'd said, my mouth forming a little 'o' shape; I was still in shock.

Jared looked at me desperately. "Don't believe him; he's jealous."

I shook my head. "Zach doesn't get jealous." I'd said. "And he never lies."

I had let Zach eat my recess cookies for a whole week. Well, I'd willingly let him, since he usually took half anyway. It was my way of saying thanks, since I knew Zach would hate it if I got mushy and explicitly said it.

And then suddenly I was having flashbacks, remembering all the times we'd hung out: when we were nine and Zach made his parents take me in until I could find new foster parents. When we were twelve and we kissed, just to see what it was like. When we were thirteen, and he pushed me in the pool on a dare. When we were fourteen and we tried cigarettes; I got addicted and he made me quit.

When we were fifteen and he forgot my birthday. But then he made it up to me by buying me a card. It was such an un-Zach thing to do, that I almost cried with happiness. I didn't, obviously, because he probably would have disowned me. I remembered the way he'd thrust it in my face and made me promise not to tell anyone. "And don't you dare gush about it." He'd grunted at me.

I remembered the lead up to the year ten formal and we were fighting about something stupid, and guys kept asking me to go with them but for some reason I only wanted to go with Zach. I remembered storming into his house and up to his room and throwing my shoe at him. "Can we stop fighting and go to the formal together?" I ground out bitterly.

He'd smirked at me and shrugged and said, "I'm not picking you up though." I shrugged. "And don't expect chocolates or anything." I rolled my eyes because obviously I hadn't expected that. Truth was, I didn't even want that kind of thing. I just wanted a friend to take me so the other guys would stop hounding me.

He sat on the couch with some other guys the entire night because he refused to dance or do anything else sappy. I didn't care. And then afterwards, we walked back to my place, a little bit tipsy, and even though he never explicitly said so, I was sure he was walking me the entire two kilometres because he felt a little bad for ignoring me the entire night.

And then we stood awkwardly at my door, silence ensuing. But then he cleared his throat and said, "It's a nice dress." It was almost the only time he'd complimented me, even if he was only referring to the dress. Still, it was good enough for me. I tried not to smile because I knew he'd get angry. He hated sap. I wanted to thank him for putting up with me, but I knew he'd hate it.

So I kissed him on the cheek and his eyebrows shot up in surprise, which in itself was surprising because Zach Benson was never surprised. It was funny, so I kissed him again, and then his hand was in my hair, holding it gently, and we were kissing softly, slowly, sweetly.

"Night, Deli." He'd said casually, like everything was normal. We never spoke about it.

I remembered when we were choosing subjects for year eleven and I was stressing over whether to do art or modern history, and he'd said, "Shut up Deli. Just do what you're good at." Then he snatched my sheet away and circled art.

I remembered when we were sixteen and he helped me find new foster parents, because the ones that had accepted for the next year lived over an hour away. "Really, Del, do you expect me catch public transport or something?" He never explicitly said he wouldn't be able to stand not seeing me everyday and getting his ass whooped in Mario Cart, but I knew him well enough to know that's what he meant.

Now, sitting awkwardly next to the guy I'd known since I moved in with my second lot of foster parents in year three, I couldn't believe I'd said what I'd said. And I realised that for the first time in, well, I think ever, Zach had told me a major lie.

"You're a liar." I said softly, breaking the tense silence cautiously. He didn't respond so I elaborated. "You're a big, fat, liar. If you weren't such an honest person, I might have figured it out earlier." Curiosity peaked, I could tell, but he hid it well.

"Remember that time in year four when I dropped my ice cream, so you gave me yours?" No answer. "And that time I fell off my bike and you bought me a packet of Harry Potter bandaids?" No answer. "And that time, all those times, when you helped me find foster parents that lived close by?" Still no answer, but I could tell he hated that I was making him sound mushy and caring. "And that time you made your parents take me in until I found someone, and that time you took me to the movies because my date had bailed on me, and that time you walked me home from the formal and kissed me."

He grunted angrily. "What of it, Adele? Where are going with this shit?" He wouldn't look at me.

"You said no one wants me. No one cares about me enough to want to stick around." I felt him tense beside me. That was good enough of an apology for me, because I could tell he regretted saying that. But it didn't matter, because I'd already figured out it was a lie. "It was a pretty convincing lie, you know. It kinda hurt." Well, actually, it hurt a lot. But I couldn't tell him that.

Beside me, Zach took a deep breath in and out, but I continued on. "Sure, maybe my numerous foster parents aren't all that interested in what happens to me, but you are. And that's really all that counts anyway." I finished up with a mumble because I hated this mushy crap almost as much as Zach did, and because I thought he might suddenly shoot me with his laser gun.

I resented that I was the one who had to do all the talking. Hell, I'd practically just apologised to myself on his behalf. But now that I'd forgiven him, I had to say sorry.

I gulped, and I know he noticed, but he didn't say anything. "And do you remember that time down at the park with Molly," He tensed even more; he didn't want to hear this bit, "And I turned up and made you listen to me talk about my 'awesome' holiday so that you had all your attention on me, and then –" He threw his hand over my mouth, staring at me dangerously.

"Don't say it, Deli. Don't you dare blame yourself." He growled, his hand tight over my mouth. I stared at him sternly, making him see my apology, making him see that I didn't mean what I'd said; it most definitely wasn't his fault. Truth was, sometimes I really believed that if I hadn't turned up, Molly would still be alive.

His angry glare softened a little, but not too much because that would just be sappy and not at all hardcore. I could feel tears growing behind my eyes, but I couldn't let myself cry because it'd just annoy Zach.

He took his hand away slowly, his stare still fixed firmly on me. I looked down at my hands, suddenly uncomfortable under his gaze. I cleared my throat awkwardly. "So…" Peeking up at Zach, I saw him smirk.

"I like the way you say your S's." I think I might have blushed a little. Then he picked up his laser gun and shot me. My mouth dropped open in shock just as the speaker called out, "Adele Hampton is out. Blue team wins." Zach smirked again. "Come on, it was inevitable; you got too sappy."

And then he kissed me, soft at first, then harder, warmer, on my jaw and down my neck and back to my lips, and the stupid Laser Tag gear was getting in the way, so we had to stop.

It also might have had something to do with the fact that our entire year group had raced back in for a second game, and Ryan was standing there in shock, and he said, "That went unexpectedly well: no tears, no broken bones, no raised voices, no bruises –"

"Shut up, Davies." Zach laughed, helping me up. "We'll see you tomorrow." He said, dragging me along by my arm. Ryan smirked at us.

"We? Where are we going?" I asked.

"My place." Zach grunted.

"Zach, you can't order me around, you know. What if I don't want to go to yours?"

He just smirked and kissed me again. "Come on, Deli, cut me some slack: I've known you for ten years. I can read you like a book, and the page I'm on right now says 'Zach, please take me back to your place and ravish me on your ever so comfy bed'."

I hmphed but followed him to the bus stop willingly anyway. "Yeah? Well I can read you like a book too, and a children's one at that, and the page I'm on right now says, 'Deli, don't argue with me or I will die from not being near you, except I will never say that out loud because I'm Zach Benson; I'm hardcore and scared of nothing except mush'."

He laughed lightly and spun me around to face him, holding me by the waist gently. For such a rough looking guy, his gentleness had always surprised me. Then he kissed me again, and again and again until the bus came and we made it back to his place and played Mario Cart, because neither of us had played for three whole weeks.