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Like Best Friends but a Little More
Short story
Section 2

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I felt someone kicked my leg. I ignored it.

They did it again.

Yup. Still ignoring.

And then they took my shoe.

My eyes shot open from behind my book and I sat up so fast I felt like I was going to faint. Shielding my eyes from the sun, I squinted around me to look for the thief. I was obviously using my shoe - I wanted to yell. Who would -

"Studying? Again?" Josh dropped my shoe on my lap and smirked brilliantly when I glared up at him. He laughed at my disgruntled look and took a seat next to me. It was lunch time, and I decided to have some quiet time outside underneath my favourite tree. Admittedly it was boiling hot so most of the kids were inside or at a nearby restaurant for lunch, but the sun felt nice.

Even though I felt like I was being boiled alive.

"Test tomorrow," I replied in a sigh and leaned against the bark of the tree. I uninterestedly observed my shoe next to me before dragging my gaze to my socked feet.

"Why are you here?" I questioned eventually.

"No reason." He practically shoved a slice of pizza at me. "Eat."

"But I'm not -"

"I'm not going to argue with you, Anne. I don't give a shit if you're hungry or not. Eat."

I looked at him blankly. "Why are you so bossy today?" I huffed but took his pizza with a thank you. He tossed me an unopened packet of dipping sauce and I couldn't stop the butterflies in my stomach. Josh hated Garlic dipping sauce. He knew I could never eat pizza without it… proving he bought this with the intention of giving it to me!

I discreetly tried giving him back two dollars -

"Think you're slick, eh?" he said with a mouthful of pizza. He shot me a look. "Don't make me hurt you."

I had to laugh at him. "Okay, okay." I smiled at him.

He smirked a little. "You've been skipping out on lunch," he said offhandedly and took a bite out of his own pizza. I glanced at him from the corner of my eye, but he didn't say anything else. In fact, he was staring off at the field, an indifferent expression on his face. Sometimes I wondered if Josh ever felt anything at all since he made it seem like he didn't give a crap.

But then I laugh at myself. Of course Josh cared. He was a hero. He just didn't want anyone to know that.

"Why are you smiling at me?" Josh asked suspiciously, eyes narrowed. I blinked and realized that yes, I was, in fact, staring at him with a large smile on my face. Oh crap, weak moment. He wasn't supposed to catch that!

"No reason. I was smiling at the fly over your head," I said lamely and turned away from his face.

He snorted. "Sure."

"Mhm." I had to bite my lip to keep from smiling.

The silence stretched for the remainder of lunch. We finished our pizza, and like the organized neat freak that I am, began to fold our paper bags they kept the pizza in, and stack our garbage accordingly to whether it was to be recycled or not. Josh was so used to my antics that he didn't give me the weird look I usually expected. Instead, he grabbed my bag and got comfortable on the grass.

"Hey Anne." His voice was so soft that I almost missed it.

"Hm?" I looked up from my textbook and down at his face. He was staring up at the leaves, his arms crossed behind his head. There was a pensive look on his face, but his lips were set into a line. I couldn't read him. God, it was almost impossible to read Josh. Which wasn't fair because he read me like a book. Hmph.

"I -" He stopped, almost as if he caught himself in the right moment to keep him from saying it.

I frowned when the silence stretched. "You… what?"

He sat up, running a hand through his hair. "I…"

Silence.

I was really giving him a psycho look right now. "Josh," I said slowly, tapping his shoulder. He seemed to snap out of his daze and his eyes met mine. I shook my head. For a moment he looked tense there.

"I want you to stop starving yourself," he finally said, his words gritted.

I gawped before laughing. "Fine," I shook my head and grabbed my yellow list. "I'll add it on," I humoured him. Like I was actually starving myself.

He shook his head roughly and stood up. "I'm serious, Anne," he warned, brushing his pants. He shielded his eyes as he looked onto the field and I followed his line of vision. Taylor was near the double doors waving at him with a bright smile.

Josh started to walk away without a word in her direction, and I looked down at my textbook, trying not to feel my chest hurt.

It's fine. It was made clear that - well, you know, nothing was ever going to happen. I just don't understand why feelings can't go away when you wanted them to. Shouldn't you be able to decide what you wanted in life?

I shut my book. I didn't feel like studying anymore.

God, and he wondered why I wasn't in the cafeteria. The feeling of heartache wasn't exactly something I'd willingly walk towards to.

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"WILL," I bellowed, throwing my door open with ferocity that even scared me. Eyes narrowed viciously, I began to look around me. He was around here somewhere. He lived here, didn't he? I ignored the prickly feeling of glue drying on my skin and the jewellery falling off. That little prick decided to do his arts and crafts on me.

I wanted to grab him and launch him into space.

"WILL," I yelled, running into his room. Empty. Ugh.

I rushed downstairs, grinning evilly. I knew he was there. He couldn't hide from me. I skidded into a halt in front of the kitchen, "Will, how dare you -" I stopped short. Standing there was Dad with Will sitting on the counter next to him rather cheerily. Standing in front of them was a woman I've never seen before.

But the heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach told me who she was.

"Anne," Dad said, eyes crinkling. I didn't look at him long enough because I didn't want to see the warning look in his eyes I knew was there. Will's grin widened when he saw me, slapping his hands over his mouth to keep himself from giggling out loud. "Anne, this is Ileana."

I think I froze for a while, my heartbeat loud in my ears.

Ileana looked at Dad for some reason and he smiled warmly at her, nodding to me. She brightened and stepped forward. "Hello, Anne, I've heard so much about you."

I stared at her, feeling absolutely sick to my stomach. No seriously, I felt like throwing up. God. I wanted to cry out in pure anger, in distress, in - in -

How dare he even smile at her like that!

I felt myself slowly hardening. If Dad can forget about Mom, then whatever. I can forget how to feel. How to be nice and polite. All the manners my mother implanted in me.

"Hi," I said curtly, crossing my arms over my chest. I looked at Dad daringly, raising an eyebrow at the strict look in his eyes to be nice to me. Who the hell cared. I sure didn't. I felt horrible for doing this, but it wasn't as horrible as the nauseous feeling in my stomach. "So what have you heard about me?"

She didn't seem deterred. "That you're sweet," she said, eyes softening. I wasn't affected. "You help your Dad around a lot."

I smirked, holding a finger up. "He lied to you. I'm a complete bitch, actually." I took a step forward. "Not so much, but more so than what Dad thought. And what are you?" I said bitingly, watching her smile slowly fall. I felt the tears swelling in my eyes. I didn't give her time to answer, "You're that other lady, someone I never wanted to meet." My breath hitched. "So you can shove your fake 'let's get to know this man's family!' bullshit up your ass!"

"Anne!" Dad's voice was scandalized and furious. I shot him a look of death.

"I swear to God, Dad," I said as calmly as I could, my throat constricting. But I forced the words out of my mouth. "If you ever bring her back here into Mom's kitchen, you will never see my face again." Smiling tightly at both their frozen faces, I turned around and walked out of the house.

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I crouched down, sniffing, rubbing my eyes with the back of my hand. I was where I wanted to be, but what I really wanted was my mom's hug. I wanted to feel her strong arms wrap around me in a comforting embrace. I wanted to lay my head at the crook of her shoulder and relish in that feeling only mom's can give.

"I was so mean, Ma," I got out through a strangled breath. I collapsed on the grass, bringing my legs to my chest. Guiltily, I ducked my chin, staring at the engraved writing of Ma's tombstone. "I bet if I met her outside of the house as someone else - I would be so nice. But I was mean. I was evil, you wouldn't be proud of me in that moment."

I choked on a sob, raising my head to look at the sky. It was really blue today.

"But I don't care," I said suddenly. "She's not you. I don't want Dad to fall in love with her." I sniffed, swallowing. "What the hell, Mom," I said incredulously. "I wouldn't want fall in love with someone else," I said, suddenly furious that Dad could ever think of something remotely close to that. I blew out a sigh. "You're right. Us Delaney girls," I said fondly, "we only really love once. Yours was Dad. You gave him your heart."

I laughed a little. "I know I'm young, Ma, but do you think I could break that spell with falling in love once? I hardly think Josh would appreciate me loving him," I said wryly. "He'd probably tell me I'm doing it wrong." I laughed loudly at that. "Hey, remember when he got mad at me for reciting the alphabet wrong? He made me a whole chart the next day in huge block letters just so I could remember.

"You helped me bake him cookies." I picked at the grass near my feet. "We ate it together at the porch. You were inside with Dad talking and laughing." My smile grew bitter. "The good old days, huh?"

My eyes caught sight of my arms and I felt the pressure behind my eyes again. God. I will never stop crying for you, Mom. I miss you too much. "I wish Will got the chance to know you more." I sighed wistfully. "You did good on Earth, though." I smiled brightly, despite the sob choking my throat and the tears falling down my face. "Thank you, God," I looked back up at the blue sky, "for letting me have her for as long as I did." I picked myself up, dusting my bottom. "Love you forever, Ma," I parted after briefly touching her tombstone.

I turned around -

- and nearly had a heart attack.

"JOSH," I shrieked, clutching my chest. I furiously wiped my face and returned to glaring at him. "That's not creepy at all," I told him wryly, my heart pounding in my ears. He was leaning against the tree a few feet away from Mom's resting place. I stared at him blankly for a moment; he was watching me with that same damn unreadable look in his eyes.

My gaze turned suspicious.

"Did Dad send you here?" I demanded agitatedly, trying not to rip my hair out. "Well, you can march back to him and tell him I meant every word. He'll know what I mean," I said coolly.

Josh crossed over to where I was standing silently after a few moments. I looked at him, determination written across my face. All he did was open his arms, looking at me expectantly.

First my lips gave away and my chin crinkled in an attempt to keep a straight face. But then the stupid tears began to press against the back of my eyes. So I stepped into his embrace and cried my heart out.

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Like always, I woke up in Josh's arms. It didn't matter where we were - where I would burst out crying. We'd always end up in his room with his strong arms wrapped around me like he would protect me from anything. It was dim; I saw the outline of the sun setting from his closed blinds. I shifted a little, my face feeling stuck, when I felt him tighten his grip around me.

I groaned under my breath. I cried again. I cried and I fell asleep. Josh was there, yet again. God knows how he knew.

I reached to my face and rubbed my eyes.

"Anne," his voice was soft, as if raising it would disturb the atmosphere.

I had to laugh a little under my breath. "What is this, Josh? The hundredth time?" I felt my chest swell in embarrassment and warmth. Tough badass Josh was always there for me.

"Round that," he shrugged, "but who's counting?"

I laughed, elbowing him lightly. I turned around to face his chest, and he was looking down at me with a sombre expression. I felt my heart palpitating. He was absolutely beautiful, and he wasn't mine. He took care of me like he was holding the most precious piece of art in the world. I knew that look in his eyes - Mom and Dad always gave it to each other when they thought no one was looking. When they thought the other wasn't looking.

I slipped my arm around his waist and hugged him, like I always did. "Thanks for being there," I whispered, and forcedly pulled myself away. No matter how much I liked being in his embrace, it was time to break the moment. I couldn't stay in arms that weren't supposed to be around me.

Gosh, what would Taylor think? Someone he's liked for forever?

"It's late." He didn't loosen his grip around me. I actually stopped at his words, and I knew what he was going to say next. "Your dad told me what happened."

Despite being in his embrace, underneath his warm covers, I felt my body turn cold. "I was a bitch," I said flatly. But I looked up at him with narrowed eyes, my lips set in a grim line. "But I wouldn't take it back. I meant what I said Josh. If he brings her back there, he'll never see me again."

He chose his words carefully. "Don't you think that's…" He stopped, however, when I curled up a little. Despite my harsh words, I was hurting inside. I didn't like giving ultimatums. I hated it. But if Dad was going to choose between Mom and Ileana, then he can settle for choosing between us as well. I didn't give a shit.

Instead of scolding I expected, he tucked me under his chin and chuckled.

"Stubborn girl," he said, his voice almost holding a tinge of fondness. I was pretty sure I imagined that, though, because Josh never spoke to me with fondness. He spoke to me with irritation. It was actually quite amusing.

I hummed noncommittally and smiled to myself when I felt his hand on my head. It almost felt like he was cradling me. It reminded me of when we were children.

"It almost feels like you're breaking down," Josh said mildly, and I couldn't tell if he was baiting me or not. "Almighty Anne, always on top of everything…"

"Shut up," I grumbled, turning over and scooting away from him. He only laughed lightly.

"Get some sleep," he instructed, pulling the blanket over us.

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Ground beef

Lemons, oranges, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic

Chicken wings, salmon, pork

Corn

Milk (CHOCOLATE)

Orange juice, vitamin C and D supplements

"Haven't you ever heard of shopping on a whim?" Josh said over my shoulder, probably done with invading my privacy. I glared snootily at him as he walked around to stand in front of me. One hand was casually on the cart handle, and the other was reaching to brush hair from my face.

Wait, what? I pulled back uncertainly but smiled when he raised an eyebrow. "No," I answered his question, crossing off what I had in the cart. "And if my organization bothers you that much, then you don't have to come grocery shopping with me. It's that easy."

He yawned, pushing the cart next to me. He actually did look like he rolled out of bed when he pleasantly surprised me as I walked out of my door with a mission. He, honestly, scared the shit out of me when he knew what I was going to do. It was like he kept tabs on me.

I was too afraid to ask how, however.

"What's next?" He leaned a little on my arm, peering at the list in my hand. I absentmindedly raised my head to check our surroundings and for possibly my next item -

"Hey! Quit adding things to the cart!"

He rolled his eyes. "Anne, Will loves yogurt. Shut up, and I know you like baby food so -"

I felt my face turn red and I sputtered defensively, "They're a lot tastier than they look - !"

He laughed. "Relax, Anne, I'm not making fun of you." But his grin told me otherwise. I made a face at him, just this once I let him have his way.

"Stop it! I don't need that!"

"It's Cesar dressing," he argued. "You like salad, so shut the hell up!"

"But it's not on my -"

"Fuck the list, Anne!"

"Don't swear at me!"

"I'm swearing, but not at you."

We glared at each other. Half the cart - OK, more than half - belonged to Josh. Maybe I let him slide a few more… times… who was I kidding? He was stubborn as a mule.

"Why do you do this to me?" I moaned as he headed towards the cashier. He only smiled sweetly and began to place our items to be checked out. We worked in silence for a few minutes, until he made it to the front and fished out his debit - "I'm going to KILL you, Josh!" I frantically pulled me wallet out and fished for my own card.

"Oh, it's you," Josh grinned at the cashier blinking at us with dotted eyes. I read her tag. Rania. Oops. "She's still trying. Pretty sad, huh?" His arm was, once again, locked around me. I don't think he knew how embarrassing this was for me. The elderly couple behind us were smiling - probably laughing at me.

I would laugh at me too. I began to struggle against his hold.

"Now, Anne, what did we say before?"

"That you'd let me pay!" I pulled away and try batting his hand away.

Rania was watching in amusement, getting over her little fear of the… chemistry between Josh and I. Right. I snorted at my thoughts. "You should let your boyfriend pay. He's obviously very willing."

"That's great and all," I said enthusiastically, "if he were my boyfriend." I watched in despair as he punched in his code and smirked at me triumphantly. Asshole. "He's just my annoying neighbour."

"Just?" Josh snickered, arm going around my waist and gently pulled me to grab the bags. "I think I'm a bit more than that." He winked at Rania and I gave a little wave before following after Josh. "Really, Anne? Just your neighbour? I think I could even pass as a best friend if we really get down to it."

"Well! Best friends don't do this to best friends," was my eloquent response. Ignore the fact that I sounded huffy and childish. But really, Josh has been paying for my groceries for the past - WELL, every time he came with me! I had a right to be annoyed.

He ignored me. How charming.

"Get in." He was holding the door open, his face conveying boredom.

"Look at that," I heard a hushed voice. "He really does love her."

I froze about halfway in the car and Josh and I simultaneously whipped our heads to the sound of the whispering. The old couple was smiling warmly at us a few park spaces away. Well, the old woman was smiling dreamily and her husband was gently pulling her while shooting us amused apologetic looks.

"Oh no!" I almost stumbled out of the car and laughed uneasily. "We're just friends!" I motioned frantically between us, but I don't think they heard. Well, my reply was a little late. We watched them drive away with those smiles still on their faces. I was staring blankly after their car.

"So anyway!" I said brightly and grabbed my seatbelt. I expected Josh to slam the car door closed, but instead he stood there. I couldn't see his face, only from his shoulder down; he was sort of leaning against the roof of the car with his right arm and his left hand was tightening around the passenger door.

He looked a little tense.

"What's wrong?" I asked uncertainly, already making a move to unbuckle myself.

"Don't." His voice was steel. I stopped at his tone, trying to wait patiently. "Anne."

"Yes…?"

He paused before letting out a frustrated sigh. I eyed his biceps, fascinated. He was really tense. Worried thoughts began to chew at me from inside. Oh, God was his mom OK? Was he? What about his dad?

"Josh, I'm here for you," I said almost urgently, trying to make him comfortable. He was always there for me, so I was going to be there for him. Through whatever. "You can tell me anything."

A breathless laugh escaped him. "I know."

"Good."

There was silence.

"Tell me," he said, his voice quiet but it held a note of importance that had me listening to every word he was saying. Then again, I would gladly listen to Josh speak. He didn't talk much, but when he did, he had me captivated. It was like he didn't waste his words. "About that night -" he broke off, and his left hand went up to rub his face. I still couldn't see his face, but I knew it was what he was doing.

Now, for me, I instantly felt my whole body go hot and uncomfortable under my clothes. I knew what he was talking about. We agreed - well, I forced him; it was the same thing - never to bring it up again… under a serious light, anyway. He usually brought it up jokingly. But right now, Josh didn't sound playful.

I got mad at him for kissing me, but that one time we had sex we were able to forget it the next day. How twisted was that?

My heart was pattering hard against my ribcage and my palms were going sweaty. I had no idea why Josh decided to bring that up - it happened months ago.

"Um, what about it?" I said nervously, my nose itching, my hand twitching in need to distract myself by twirling a pencil. Distractions. I needed distractions.

"Well," his voice was abrupt, "let's say it was the same situation but with a different girl."

My heart relaxed, but I was still confused. What was he trying to say?

"You mean Taylor?" I asked skeptically.

He grunted. "Yeah. Her. Sure." He paused briefly and when I looked up he was leaning down, his eyes so vivid and intense I couldn't even begin to describe its beauty. "Hypothetically, let's say I slept with her -" I snorted, unable to stop myself. Hypothetically? Right. But I humoured him and gestured for him to continue. He didn't lose his serious face like I expected him to. "I can't forget about it and it's driving me fucking insane."

I blinked blankly at him, unsure if I heard correctly. Then his words registered and my already broken heart began to ache once again. Oh dear, now I really needed a distraction.

"The answer's simple, Josh," I said, impatiently waving my hands around. I needed this conversation to be over as soon as possible. "Sleep with her again!"

He stared at me before he started laughing. "It's not that simple." He grinned affectionately at me. At least, it's what it looked like to me. I could be imagining it.

"Sure it is. You're Josh. You can charm her into bed," I explained like I was explaining the meaning of life to Will. Josh was having trouble keeping his face straight. I was helping him while hurting and this was what I got in return?! "She's your girlfriend. I'm sure she'll be willing to… deliver." I wrinkled my nose.

He gave into his laughter.

"OK." He smirked widely at me. "You smartass. Let's say we weren't together -"

"You broke up?!"

He ignored me, "- and let's say she was more of a friend. A really good friend."

Perplexed, I thought over this now seemingly hypothetical situation. So from my understanding Josh and Taylor broke up… but they slept together, and now Josh was having second thoughts about their relationship? Well, why did he break up with her in the first place?

I furrowed my eyebrows, looking at Josh reflectively. "Um…" I tapped my thigh, my brain processing the situation he brought upon himself. Idiot. "Tell… her how you feel?" It sounded more like a question waiting to be denied.

He shook his head. "She won't believe me."

"Sure she will! She likes you." And I mean, really likes you.

"No, trust me." His half smile held sort of a secret. "She won't."

"O-K." My expression was now morphed into the standardized what the hell look because this was all cryptic and he expected me to help him. Why was he asking me now, of all times anyway? I had a tub of ice cream in the back! "Then prove to her that you really do have feelings for her." I shrugged, biting my bottom lip in thought. How would I want someone to prove their love for me?

Well. Probably have them do what Josh does for me… because honestly, the boy goes through hell and back for me. My heart knew what I needed, but I was determined to not act on anything.

He rubbed his face. "I'm doing it in every way I could think of." Wow, he really sounded frustrated. He was even running a hand through his hair. God, if he kept doing that then he'll get bald. "She's just so fucking oblivious."

It almost felt like… like he was yelling at me. I squinted back up at him when I noticed his glare. Why the hell was he glaring at me for?

"Oh would you - !" I growled under my breath and yanked him towards me in irritation. I roughly grabbed his hand and began to run my much smaller hands through his hair in a smoother fashion. He was going to grow bald because of Taylor whom he was so completely in love with. His problem was telling her, and I couldn't stand and watch him lose hair because -

I felt the pressure behind my eyes as I continued to do what I was doing. What the hell was I even talking about? Hair? No, I needed a distraction. God, it was so painful.

"There," I said abruptly, releasing him. "Don't pull your hair out, we don't want you bald by the time you're twenty-five." I cleared my throat and straightened my body. Clearly avoiding his gaze. Wow, I was a coward. "So yes, take my advice. Figure out how you tell her some other way; I don't think I could be much help since, you know," I said lamely. I've never been in a relationship.

Josh was looking at me, I felt it. But in the end, he didn't say anything else and closed my door. He slipped into the driver's seat and started the car. I couldn't wait to get home.

The ride was edgy; I knew he knew I was moody. It didn't help I was PMSing. I didn't need this right now - not when I was trying to get over Josh even when I knew it was completely futile. And the ice cream! What the hell, it was probably all liquid. I hated it when that happened.

"You're annoyed," he noted when we were almost home.

"I'm not," I denied instantly. "I just really -"

"Want to clean? Cook? Get away from me?" he guessed.

He was good. Instead of admitting it, I pursed my lips and said nothing at all. Josh only laughed lightly, which fueled my exasperation. I didn't know how to deal with Josh properly when I was trying to fight here. He was totally useless!

"So why do you really hate Taylor?" Josh said as he killed the engine in front of my house. Thank God. Sanctuary. I turned to the door with every intention of ignoring his question, but he had it locked. And he shut off the engine. Great.

I turned to him with a death glare where he was already smiling cheekily.

"Josh," I said in my warning voice.

"Anne," he responded mildly.

"You're serious?" I said incredulously. After all those months they've dated, he's asking me this now? I gritted my teeth before releasing an exhale. Fine. I'll play it his way. (Like there was any other way. He was so horrible to me.) "OK, fine." I crossed my arm over my chest and eyed him. "I never liked Taylor because I thought you were too good for her." I shrugged. "That is all. Now unlock the door."

His voice was calm and expectant. His demeanour even more casual. "And?"

He was really asking for it. My back stiffened and I pulled another answer from the back of my head. "OK," I said through gritted teeth. "She didn't take care of you." Not like the way I knew I could take care of him. "She'd let you go to those stupid parties - she'd even get smashed until the next afternoon. I find that a little irresponsible."

"So?" his response was only a beat later. I also heard his amusement. Probably thinking that my reason was stupid, and when I replayed it in my head, it kind of sounded idiotic. (OK, really idiotic.) They were teenagers, of course they could get wasted without severe consequences. "That only means she's not controlling. Unlike some people I know." He shot me tiny smirk. I knew he meant it jokingly but it only served to cut my heart wide open again. Gee, remind me again why I'm not perfect for you. Great, thanks, now that you've filled your quota for the day….

I opened my mouth to defend myself but shut it closed when I couldn't find a legit reason that didn't involve telling him I had feelings for him or something else equally stupid.

"She dressed like a slut." There. I said it.

"So she's hot. She's only reminding us."

My chest was so tense I felt like I was going to explode. "She's heartless and - and mean. She's always saying horrible things about other people in the school just because they're not like that."

"So she speaks her mind. You could learn from her." His gaze was holding mine but I looked away in the direction of my house.

I opened and closed my mouth but nothing else came out. Every other reason had something to do with Josh and how secretly amazing he was. How he took care of my little brother when I couldn't, and even when I was able to. How he was there when I always needed him. How he was my hero. And I knew for a damn fact that Taylor couldn't see that because she was so caught up in her own little selfish world; every girl I knew who liked Josh was like that.

And I only wanted him to find someone who deserved him; who he could treat right like he treated me. The kind of girl I wanted for Josh was someone who would tell him to stop doing all this bullcrap teenage stupidity - but maybe go in moderation. Someone to watch over him when he had a hangover. Someone who pulled him back to reality when he was being too distant. Someone to love him for the person he was so greatly trying to hide from the world. Someone who will bring him to life, to let him live…!

Because he deserved it. He did, even if he didn't know it.

But yeah. I cleared my throat. I couldn't tell that to him. It'd sound like I still had feelings for him… which I didn't.

"That's it?" he sounded vaguely amused while I felt sick. I wasn't looking at him because tears were brimming in my eyes and I couldn't let him see me cry. Over what? This was stupid. I was just crying to him a few days ago. "Anne, all the girls I've dated are who you described Taylor as." His voice was calm, like he was trying to tell me what I already knew.

"Right." It happened all so quickly, but I felt my emotions being shut off. The tears disappeared, there was only a very heavy sensation in my body to let me know I was still alive because I couldn't feel anything else. I looked at Josh blankly, who had his eyebrows furrowed.

"I wasn't done," he said patiently, his eyes flickering all over my face. "I was trying to make you realize something."

I looked at him. "Which was?"

"Anne," he said, his voice quiet. "You're not like any of them. You're -"

"Oh." I cut off his well prepared (I use that term loosely) speech. "Now that you've established that you'll never return my feelings," I practically sneered, "I think it's best if you let me out of your car so I could go and put that melted ice cream in the freezer. And then cook dinner for Will because my father is going out with that woman again!"

"Anne -"

"God, Josh," my whole form was tense. "Why would you even ask that? Do you enjoy seeing me writhe in agony?"

He rolled his eyes, "I think you're being a little too dramatic -"

"Let me guess - the girls you usually date aren't this much of a drama queen, am I right?" I retorted. I glowered at him, my eyes blazing with fire because how dare Josh act like he cared when he -

"You didn't let me finish!" he practically yelled, the frown now on his face. "I - God." He ran his hand over his face, a frustrated smile gracing his lips. "You're so difficult -"

"- and I'm sure Taylor is a complete gem in comparison -"

"- maybe if you listen to me once in a while -"

"- oh you're the one to talk. You ignore me every chance you get -"

"- I do not. And besides, it's always you who jumps to conclusions and think the worst -"

"- and are you even helping me change my mind - ?!"

We glared daggers at each other. His lips were formed into a scowl; I was baring my teeth angrily. Josh was so frustrating sometimes! I wanted to reach over and smack the living daylights out of him.

"I was trying," he continued calmly, a false pretence to his actual feelings. Obviously. "But you just love interrupting me." I made a face. "What I meant to say was you're different, Anne."

"I know that, thank you for your patronizing reminder."

"Oh for the love of -" He groaned, letting his head fall back against his seat. He was staring at the ceiling of his car. I was watching him do so angrily… in annoyance. I didn't know anymore. My emotions were everywhere. "I was going to give you a speech and shit about how you keep changing my life," he sneered when I was about to interrupt. I screwed up my face. What the hell was he talking about? "But clearly I could see that it's not going to work so I'm just going to say it."

"Say… wh -"

He laughed, but it sounded tense. He was staring at his hands, a fierce glare on his face. "I know it's stupid and impractical, but I realized I wanted you after I already had you… that night." There was silence. I was just staring at him uncomprehendingly. "I've been running from it since."

"Ah…"

He looked up from his hands to stare at me in incredulity. "That's all you have to say?"

"Um… yes."

We looked at each other, like we were assessing whether we were serious or not. I wasn't about to call Josh on his bluff - what did he take me for, stupid?

So I responded smartly: "Your confession isn't that effective if you were just talking about Taylor an hour ago."

His mouth opened and closed, his eyes wide. "I was talking about you!" He didn't even have enough energy to defend himself or mock me. "Are you serious right now, Anne? F'real?" He snickered before he started to laugh.

I started to laugh too, because I felt hysterical. But then I just started to feel confused.

"Josh," I said, clearing my throat. He raised an eyebrow at me. "The ice cream is seriously melting. I wasn't joking about that."

"Fucking -" He groaned. "Anne. I'm trying to tell you something kind of important," his voice was dripping with sarcasm, "and all you're worried about is the ice cream." Leave it to Josh to sound patronizing even in the edgy moments.

"Clearly," I insisted. "Josh, if this is about you feeling bad for that one time - "

"You don't believe me," he stated, he didn't question it; his words cut through my own. My voice died and I didn't bother to continue because his gaze was severe; I felt his eyes flickering all over my face.

"I don't," I said after a pause. I observed him suspiciously, taking in his face which was usually passive. "I just…" I made a useless gesture and blew out a sigh. I was getting annoyed at myself because I couldn't properly express myself. I rubbed my nose furiously, avoiding his gaze. But it was Josh, and he understood me, even if he didn't like it. "I just don't."

"Why not?" This time I practically saw the determination light up in his eyes. He was looking at me, as if daring me to challenge his feelings for me. All I could do was gape.

"OK… mostly because right now I'm pretty sure this is a dream," I said cautiously, not wanting to tick Josh even further. I think I saw a vein start to throb. I gritted my teeth, the nagging feeling at the back of my head growing more pronounced. OK, I seriously couldn't take it anymore. "Josh! The ice cream, it's melting. Can I just put it in the freezer?"

Instead of getting angry, he laughed, and to my surprise, unlocked the doors.

-

-

-

He was sleeping when I tiptoed into his room. His parents were downstairs preparing for dinner; they let me in and told me Josh was upstairs in his room and for me to go on ahead to see him. He was lying on his chest and I saw the book he'd been reading before his nap. Josh liked to read a lot, I noticed, more so than the average high school boy.

Then again, since was Josh ever normal?

I didn't wake him up, and instead made myself comfortable at the foot of his bed and grabbed the book he was reading. It was almost six o'clock and that meant almost time for dinner at my house. Which meant Ileana was coming over like she made a habit of doing. She also made a habit of trying to communicate with me - right. Which was why I was here.

I must've dozen off because the next thing I knew, I felt someone next to me, gently slipping their arm under me. I stirred, and snapped into a straightened position.

"You're never that alert," Josh's whisper caressed my face. I looked up at him in slight confusion, wondering why he was in my room until I realized I was in his room. Ha. Ha ha….

"What time is it?" My voice was as low as his. He glanced over his shoulder.

"Seven thirty."

"She's probably still there," I grunted, leaning back and relaxing against the side of his bed. Josh retracted his arm from around my shoulder, but maintained his crouched position. He was looking at me again, I sighed inwardly, trying not to cover my face. He sure knew how to make me uncomfortable. "What is it?"

"What?"

"Why are you looking at me?" I intoned evenly and raised my eyes to meet his.

He didn't reply but instead hoisted himself up. I watched him stretch and walk across his dimmed room; the only source of light was coming from the sun setting through the closed blinds. Josh never did like brightness; he preferred the curtains always closed. I liked them open, but since it wasn't my house and all.

"You have to face her sometime," Josh yawned, pulling a thin sweater over his head. "Running isn't an option."

I ignored him. "Where are you going?"

"For a run." He grinned and I had to laugh under my breath. "So unless you enjoy sniffing my pillows while I'm gone -"

My face went red. "I was already sleeping on them that one time - it's called inhaling!"

"Mhm." He cast me an amused glance. "Coming or what?"

"Yeah." I stood up in defeat. "Can I borrow a sweater?"

-

-

-

The run was quiet excluding our breathing. Well, my gasps and Josh's even inhales and exhales. Clearly it was obvious who did this more frequently. I could tell he was holding back from how he usually ran so I slowed down until I stopped on the sidewalk. Josh instantly stopped.

"Wha - no! Keep running," I gestured at him frantically, wheezing. Oh god, this was embarrassing. I was so out of shape. I coughed, "I think I'm better at to-do lists and grocery shopping."

Josh slowly walked back towards me with a slow smile on his face. "Nah, actually I'm still the better grocery shopper."

I didn't even have the energy to be defensive. My face was purple, I knew it was.

"Wow, I should drag you out of your house more often."

I shot him a look that could freeze fire but he only smirked. He stood there casually, taking in our surroundings. The sun had almost set, giving the sky a purple-orange glow. The air felt cool now and I caught my breath - finally - to enjoy the breeze for a moment or two.

"Sorry about that," I smiled sheepishly, clearing my throat. Josh didn't say anything but instead began to walk down the path in a casual pace that had me confused. I cautiously began to follow him until I was right beside him, looking up at him suspiciously. He didn't even glance at me, so I took the time to admire - uh, respect (?) - his features. He was barely sweating, but there was a sheen on his face that had my hand twitching to wipe -

OK, backtracking.

"Tired?" he cast me a sidelong glance.

"No." Hell freaking yes, I was. I wanted to collapse on the grass. But I didn't, because even though my muscles were cramping and crying out in pain, I liked walking with Josh on a night like this. It just felt… nice. I don't know, I felt whole and -

My face began to burn. What the hell was I thinking? This was ridiculous. Josh and I always spent time together, and I was praising this walk like - like - like it meant something!

I wiped the sweat forming on my forehead and sighed inaudibly. Still… it really was nice.

"You look good." I looked up to see him nodding at me, his face impassive.

"Er." I glanced down at what I was wearing skeptically. Sweatpants and his sweater probably 3 sizes too big. What a liar. "Thanks…"

He laughed at that, and suddenly his whole face transformed. I averted my eyes and smiled at nothing in particular. Josh slung his arm over me, pulling me to his side; I stumbled in order to regain my balance.

"You always did look good in my clothes," Josh said lowly, a warm teasing note in his voice. I felt myself blush about ten shades of red. Oh, God, he did not.

"Shut up, someone might hear you!" I cast a paranoid look over my shoulder. He had an eyebrow raised.

"I'm sure someone's superpowers are tingling right this moment," was his sarcastic reply. I jabbed him. "Anne, relax. It's not like they'd really care, if anyone heard - which they didn't," he backtracked, probably from the look on my face. "Besides, what's it to them?" He shrugged. "For all they know you could be my girlfriend."

It was crazy the way my whole body responded to that casual comment.

"But I'm not," I retorted. "So I don't want them to get the wrong idea - that I'm some slut and -"

"Right." He laughed but he quieted just as quickly. I realized then that his arm somehow made it from my shoulder down to around my waist. What surprised me was how comfortable and natural it felt - and it also scared the crap out of me. He was too comfortable, tracing non-existent patterns on my skin - HOW THE HELL DID HE -

God. You hated me didn't you?

"So much for running," I grumbled, crossing my arms over my chest.

"Your fault," was his dull reply. I sniffed, but looked at him from under my eyelashes. His eyes was fixed straight ahead, always looking straight. He was prioritized and I envied him for that. I may try to be organized, but Josh had it down pat that it was impossible for me not to envy the certainty in all his actions.

"Sorry," I said sheepishly, puling away from his grip. "Actually, I should head home now -"

"I didn't say I wanted you to go away." I stiffened, squinting up at him to see if he was serious or not. He caught my eyes and made a face in return. "Do you have something in your eyes?"

"…Asshole."

-

-

-

"Anne, I'm putting my foot down."

I looked up from my notebook to see my father standing a few feet, arms across his chest. His eyes were stern and right now, they were burning holes into my skull. Slowly, I straightened, but the confusion still spread across my face.

He was putting his foot down?

"Cool…?"

What was I supposed to say to that? Congratulations? What about your other foot? I'll put my foot down too?

Really, what do you say to that?

Dad observed me for a moment and I flickered my eyes all over the room; anywhere instead of meeting his gaze. I'd start to feel those stupid emotions I wasn't allowed to feel like guilt. Ugh, what a useless sensation. All my actions were justified - there was absolutely no reason I should feel bad!

And yet I still felt its burning flames. Damn.

"You've been disrespectful and your behaviour is horrendous." His jaw clenched. "Actually, I can't believe how long I let you off the hook."

Me neither.

My gaze turned bored. I knew where he was going with this, and I'll be damned if he pulled me down with him. He's lucky I haven't seen that woman since our last meeting. I really would have left. "So… do you want me to apologize?" I said politely.

Dad stared at me before he sighed a long sigh. Oh god, no. I shot the exit a desperate look and my hands were already closing my books and shoving them into my backpack -

"Anne." Dad's form voice reached my ears. "We need to have a little talk."

"With all due respect, Dad," I said patiently, "I already gave my say in on your little arrangement with that woman. I will not budge and I will not accept her in my life." I gave him a look of fire, but he was staring at me so sadly that my heart began to ache.

I couldn't, though. I couldn't accept her. Even if I wanted to, I just couldn't.

His words were soft. "She makes me happy, Anne."

Oh, my God. He did not just use that.

I felt every inch of energy leave my body, leaving me lifeless. My stare was vacant, taking in my father's form and the legitimacy of his statement through his demeanour. I was absolutely torn, but one side always won. I was nice, but - I just couldn't.

The pressure behind my eyes made it to my throat and I had to swallow a few times before I could get any words out.

"Dad," I said softly, my eyes meeting his earnestly, "I really do want to say I'm happy for you that you've found someone to be happy with for the rest of your life. Dad, I want to!" I shook my head, rubbing my face. The next words came out as a sigh. "But then I'd be lying."

There was dead silence, and he only looked at me with a grim expression on his face. Frankly, I didn't feel as bad as I expected myself to.

I smiled gently at him, "Daddy, you don't need my permission to date her. Go ahead, be happy with her." It doesn't matter how you felt before Mom died, right? Who the heck gave a shit anymore? The words were running in my mind, and even though I didn't say it, he felt it around him.

I grabbed my backpack.

"Date her, love her, marry her," the words were burning my throat. I felt pained. I felt my mom's pain. "Just know I'll never be apart of that." A bitter smile rose to my face, watching his frozen one. I couldn't stop. I couldn't stop hurting him - hurting both of us.

"Anne, if you'll let her -"

I looked at him. He ran a hand through his hair, cutting himself off with a sigh. And then, almost as if he decided it on a whim, he straightened and looked at me. "Anne, you will be attending dinner tomorrow night. Don't you even try to run. You will meet Ileana and apologize for your behaviour. Do I make myself clear?"

Oh, God, he really was putting his foot down.

"Dad, I -"

"Do I make myself clear?"

I bit my bottom lip, blinking rapidly to clear my eyes. "Yes."

-

-

-

Author's note: No, not the end. One more to go. The sweetness of this is going to make me gag one day. T.T