A/N: Thank you to- Dreamers-Requiem, Stay-true-Stay-you, Eclipsesforeyes, and Reeech Beeetch; you guys don't have any idea how excited I get for new reviews :)

Reech Beetch- thanks for the constructive criticism, it's great to know which areas need some work. I know it may seem a bit plot/conflict-less, but it's because this is a more gradual plotline and concept. The basic premise behind the piece is that it's a series of events in this woman's life, as well as how she chooses to deal with them; meant to be sort of 'Catcher in the Rye'-style, if that makes any sense. The ongoing conflict is the struggle with Drina and herself-i.e. her constant desire to make sacrifices for the benefit of others, versus her need to improve her station in life at the risk of other people's happiness. The plot is something I'm not willing to just throw out here; I'd rather keep it a secret for the people who are enjoying it. :) Glad you like Jasper; he's a real treat to write, and there will be plenty more of him by the time I'm through.

Dreamers-Requiem- I hope that as you get further into the story, you'll notice that I've been making a really conscious effort with the italics; I recognize that I have a problem, and that's the first step to conquering any addiction, right? :P Anywho, I'm really glad you like Drina's development as a character. It's been a major goal with this story to keep her realistic to a degree, and an essential measure for that is giving her a few flaws. Thanks so much-your reviews are officially my favorite ever :D

Thanks again for all the reviews/views/hits to the story, guys. It's perfect motivation for more!



Chapter 10

"I just think it's really sweet," Lucas said, immediately grabbing a cookie from the fresh batch before I could even place it on the table, "that you do all the cooking for them." He took a bite and gawked at me. "These are fucking delicious."

I sat in the seat closest to him and smiled smugly. "It's a Halloween tradition." I humbly neglected to inform him that I was the genius who'd come up with the pumpkin spice recipe. I also failed to mention that I was only baking so much because it felt like a serious crime to have a house so empty of confections this close to the holiday of tooth decay…not out of any real need to keep Ally and Simon happy. Though, it did feel pretty good to be contributing in some way; I still hadn't managed to find a job, and I kind of owed Simon the apology for Figaro's apparent lack of potty-training. "Speaking of Halloween," I started, scooting my chair closer to his well-formed frame, "what are our plans?" Finally, a chance to use the royal 'we.' Our plans. It was a crucial step in cementing our relationship into place. The only real question was how he would handle it; denial, or acceptance. We'd been unofficially together for about a month, so I was putting my money on acceptance. But even if he attempted denial or rejection, I felt confident enough in my abilities to persuade him otherwise.

…and then, if that didn't work, I'd just beat him into submission.

The contingency plans turned out to be unnecessary. "I thought your sister would have told you by now," he said, taking the royal we in unblinking stride and grabbing another cookie, "the firm's throwing a colossal costume party. I probably should have asked, but I assumed we'd go together." There it was—royal we! And his steady eye-contact assured me that he knew what he was doing. Assuming that we'd go together? A clear sign that he was now in 'us' mode.

"Perfect," I declared, leaning across the table and kissing him tenderly. "Just like you," I murmured against his delicious lips, smelling my own pumpkin spice recipe on his sweet breath. "I've got the perfect costume, too," I added on excitedly, pulling away from him and sitting back in my seat.

He shook his head and leaned over to kiss me this time. "You can't just leave me hanging like that," he grumbled, using a hand to hold me in place as his kiss deepened, searching, exploring, dominating. The pumpkin spice was even more present on his tongue, and I returned the kiss with an eager passion I hadn't realized had been mounting inside me. My mind was jumping all over the place—would he be opposed to taking me on the kitchen table?—when we were interrupted.

"Ew," Ally whined upon discovering us. I almost lost my chair to gravity's clutches, we separated so abruptly. "Get a room, would you?" She did a three-quarter turn, spotted the cookies on the table, and made a b-line for the baked goods.

"How was school, hon?" I asked, feeling my face grow redder with every additional second that passed.

Ally was already shaking her head. "I'm just grabbing a cookie and going to Dom's, I'm not here to do the whole 'how was your day' bit." She took one cookie, bit into it, and grabbed a second before turning for the door.

I was momentarily torn. She was grounded, and yet I wanted her out of the house desperately. As it usually did when I could tell the kid was troubled, my maternal instinct won out. "Hold on a second," I requested, my eyebrows taking on a mind of their own and shooting skyward, as if surprised at my gall. Either surprised, or awestruck. I was never very good at reading my own facial expressions.

She did a little frustrated sigh, and I could hear her eyes rolling as she said without turning around, "I got a ninety-two on my math test. I'm not failing anymore. So I'm not grounded anymore."

I wanted so badly to believe her, but I could remember being her age all too easily—it hadn't been so long ago after all, had it? It'd be too simple for me to just take her at her word and let her leave. Unfortunately, this was something my mother was usually right about: If you're parenting, and you find it's easy, then you are doing it wrong. I shoved her incriminating voice from my mind and inquired, "Can you show me?" Trying frantically not to sound patronizing.

Knowing that I did.

She groaned loudly in passive protest and turned to face me. "I can't believe you don't trust me," she pouted, but I could tell she wasn't really all that eaten up about it. She reached into her backpack and pulled out a sheet of paper, handing it to me haphazardly. "Can I go, now?"

My eyes flew over the test and affirmed that she'd done well, in addition to the comment from the teacher about her serious improvement. I smiled proudly. "You did so great," I stated in awe, looking at the equations I'd either forgotten or never learned at all. I turned the page over to look at the back, and saw that one of her questions had only been marked incorrect on a technicality; she'd done better than a ninety-two, really. I was so impressed; this was a girl who'd been sporting a thirty-seven average.

"Yeah, yeah, hang it up on the fridge or something," Ally said impatiently, waving my praise away in agitation. "Can I go, now?"

I smiled at her. "Sure, go ahead. Tell Dom I said hello. And invite him over for dinner, if you like." She was out the door before I'd even finished talking.

Lucas loosed a low whistle. "You're like a pro," he admired, his eyes full of subdued astonishment.

"I think I am going to put this on the fridge," I determined with a nod, standing and crossing the kitchen. "She really worked hard for this," I mused, fixing the test just above the ice and water dispenser. After double checking to make sure it was straight, I returned to my seat at his side, pondering the interaction with Ally. "Aren't they supposed to be around more?"

He chuckled knowingly. "What do you care? She's not even yours," he pointed out, leaning back toward me to pick back up where we'd left off. "Now where were we?"

I didn't bother to address the fact that as long as her mother was on hiatus—as long as she needed me—Ally might as well be mine. Instead, I broke the kiss prematurely and whispered, "I believe we were discussing my costume. I think I'll go as—"

"No," he interjected, a sly grin overtaking his face. "Don't crush the suspense; it's really a turn-on to just imagine what naughty costume you're going to pull out." Our eyes locked, and he muttered huskily, "You do have your own bedroom here, don't you?"

I held up a finger. "The only way you're getting the guided tour is if you agree to stay for dinner tonight." I glanced at the microwave clock and added, "But decide quickly, because we'll need to hurry if we're gonna do it before Simon gets home."

"You know, mentioning your recently-divorced roommate slash brother-in-law really ought to be a turn-off for me, but," Lucas chuckled darkly, "for some reason the concept of racing the clock to beat the bastard is just winding me up even more."

"Then I'm glad you've conceded," I gave him a sexy smirk, "to stay for supper."

We sprinted to my bedroom, shoving and pulling and tugging and pushing and clambering up the stairs and into my bed—where we spent the next hour or so in the all-consuming throes of lust and fire.

"Maybe I should have thought this out better," I confessed under my breath to Simon, who stood beside me by the stove, watching on as Lucas avoided making eye contact with either Ally or Dom, who were seated across from him at the kitchen table.

He snorted. "You invited five people to dinner at a house with only three chairs." He jerked his head toward his daughter's A paper on the fridge. "Al could've done the math out for you, Drina." At the table, Lucas jumped slightly; he'd chanced a glance in Ally's direction, and she'd been steadfastly glaring at him since I'd announced he was staying for dinner.

I nudged Simon with my elbow and moaned, "Why haven't you bought a new chair yet?" I spun around to face the sauce on the stove, taking up the spoon and stirring carefully. It could only go one of two ways with red sauce; you either spilled on yourself, or you didn't. I aimed to remain clean until my date had returned home.

…clean of food, anyway.

"We'd still be short one chair. Did you forget how to count? Is that it?" I nudged him more violently, and he shrugged. "I don't know why I haven't done it yet." After a pause: "I don't know where the hell Mel got them from, anyway. How do I replace one chair?" He was so helpless, so lost.

I rolled my eyes. Men.

I snapped the burners off. "Soup's on," I announced to the room at large, pulling out enough plates and utensils for everyone and setting them next to the stove. "Everyone grab a plate and fill it up," I instructed, taking a step back to let everyone else serve themselves first. Another Mom-ism recurred in my mind: Cooking is a chore that balances out, at the end of the day. You slave over a hot stove, you make up your plate last, and chances are you'll have to get up to grab something for someone else. The balance is in the aftermath; you'll never have to do a single dish. Not if you've got a man worth having, that is. I shook my head violently. I should drop Rita a call—my subconscious seemed determined to dredge her up one way or another, and I'd honestly rather encounter the real thing on the phone than her favorite sayings in my brain. It implied that I'd been absorbing her bullshit subconsciously all these years, and I just didn't like that at all.

Once Simon had finished scooping a mountain of spaghetti onto his dish, I grabbed a plate of my own, and we lingered by the stove, eyeing the full table with mild trepidation. There was a symphony of eating noises; silverware scraping on plates, chewing, setting a cup down, a slurp. "This is great, Miss Scarpelli," Dom said with a sort of compulsory enthusiasm. Regardless, I smiled.

"Thanks, Dom. You can call me Adrina, if you want," I offered, the tiniest blush creeping up my neck at being referred to as 'Miss.' If Mel had been here, she'd have shot me a knowing frown—miss meant unattached, alone, single.

Dom chuckled softly, and then went back to the food in front of him. Ally said nothing, as she tended to do whenever Lucas was around. Lucas was, likewise, clammed up. Simon cleared his throat uncomfortably, and seemed to struggle with something internally. I sent him a questioning expression, and he asked, "So, Lucas, what do you do for work?"

The kitchen went eerily silent. Ally looked at her dad with complete revulsion, as if he'd betrayed her by acknowledging my boyfriend's presence. Dom was concentrating on Ally, looking ready to grab their plates and run, if the situation called for it. Even I gawked at him, evenly torn between supremely impressed at his willingness to be the bigger man and severely curious about his ulterior motive. Lucas froze where he was, fork halfway to his mouth, spaghetti hanging like lifelines all the way to his plate. His eyes darted to me quickly—as if to ask, Didn't we all agree to politely pretend we're not in the same room?—and then he set his fork back down. "I just finished school—this is my second month at my brother's law firm."

The Firm. It was becoming more and more common a topic of conversation, making me fairly nervous. The memory of our terrible double-date with Mel and Darren still flashed dauntingly in my mind from time to time, and I could only trace it back to the firm. Lucas lost a considerable amount of charm whenever the opportunity arose for him to discuss his job. It wasn't that his drive was off-putting so much as his…pride. Maybe it only felt this way to me because of my complete shortage of work ethic, but it struck me as excessive. He hadn't even been in the workforce for a year, but he was so damn proud of himself for being a lawyer. To the best of my knowledge, he'd never even had his own client. Yet, if the chance arose, he'd gladly tell you everything there was to know about his current occupation.

He surprised me, though, by deflecting the discussion away from himself. "How about you, Simon?" he asked, making Simon's name sound like some sort of squishy bug. He took a bite of garlic bread and stared at my brother-in-law with obviously insincere interest. I watched on in horror; his attitude toward Simon was really appalling. At least Simon was trying to make the best of an awkward situation.

Simon fixed his grin firmly in place and responded, "I own a few restaurants." There, I thought, relieved, that'll be the end of it. Ally and Dom went back to silently eating, and I took my first bite of pasta.

"You're in the food business?" Lucas inquired, that overly-civil tone tinting his velvety voice a very ugly color. Ally was all evil eyes in his direction, and Dom once again had the fight-or-flight look about him. Simon nodded once, his mouth full of spaghetti preventing a verbal response. Lucas's eyebrows inclined ever so slightly, and he observed slyly, "Yet you've got Drina doing all the cooking."

In his expression and overall air I read his intention: get Simon worked up, start a conflict. I was stunned by his desire for confrontation, and did the only thing I could think of to diffuse the state of affairs. "Simon, let's go eat in the living room," I suggested loudly, tugging at his elbow until he moved from where he'd been glowering at Lucas. I followed him from the room, sending a pointed look in Lucas's direction as we went. I'd deal with him later.

The two of us sat at the edge of the couch, experiencing similar symptoms of agitation. We were both too irritated to eat, though Simon continued swirling pasta around his fork, grumbling and staring at his food. I argued with myself, my conscience and my inner-insatiable-child warring passionately. Clearly, Ally and Simon didn't care for Lucas. Clearly, Lucas had a problem with Simon. So, clearly, my expectations for my relationship weren't playing out. It was really fantastic, having a boyfriend again; however, my family had to come first, especially where I was living with them. The right thing to do would be to break up with Lucas. He was too disrespectful toward Simon, and the only thing Simon was guilty of was not knowing how to shop for a vacuum and giving me a place to stay. I sighed—guilt-stricken at my immature anger toward my conscience; I'd really been rooting for the inner-insatiable-child. Simon broke free of his reverie. "Sorry about that," he said quietly, setting his plate down on the coffee table and heaving a sigh of his own. "I should have just kept my mouth shut."

"No," I corrected him, "you were being polite. I'm sorry; I didn't know I was dating a total ass." Actually, I kind of knew, but I'd been pretending—for the sake of my sex life—that he wasn't so bad. "I'm gonna break it off with him," I determined, knowing that if I said it out loud, I'd have to go through with it. No giving myself room to back out.

Simon surprised me again. "No," he said, picking his food back up and taking a bite. "You should just talk to him; if he really appreciates you, he'll smarten up."

Hard-pressed to contain my joy, I feigned reluctance. "Are you sure? I mean, if that's what you suggest…"

"Sure," he replied easily.

It felt a little stupid, taking Simon's opinion so seriously—almost like he was in charge of me. I supposed owning the house gave him a little more pull over my actions, but he wasn't my dad or anything. I briefly reminded myself that I didn't have to listen to him if I didn't want to.

…but oh, did I want to.

"Stop it," I commanded sternly, and Lucas withdrew from where he'd been placing kisses on my collarbone. He looked down at me reprovingly, and my conscience piped up in the back of my brain that I ought to just call the whole thing off. "We need to talk," I stated, trying to decide how to proceed. I'd never actually had to break up with anyone before; my relationships had all sort of ended without any real discussion. Generally speaking, I scared my other halves off; they didn't usually stick around long enough to talk things through. I guess I was nervous, but I still hadn't completely decided on giving up on him.

He huffed a little—my conscience crowed that I was too old to be dating a guy who pouted, for Christ's sake—and then muttered, "Okay. Let's talk." The words were taking their damn sweet time coming to me, so I just fixed him with a firm stare. He foolishly tried to match it, only able to hold my gaze for a few moments before dropping his eyes. If there's one thing I can do, it's keeping a straight face. "I guess I know what this is about," he said grudgingly, looking over his shoulder at Simon's house, looking at his feet, looking at the night sky, looking anywhere but me. "And I guess I'm sorry, but it's just weird."

"What's weird?" I prompted, watching his face as he went through the emotions: frustration, discomfort, embarrassment, reluctance, resignation.

He jerked his head toward the house. "This. You, living here. With him." He closed his eyes for a moment—still not looking at me—and finished, "I just really like you, and it's weird that you live with another guy. Who's not…you know, related to you or something." He finally turned his eyes on me, and they were bashful. I read insecurity in them, and immediately felt sorry for even getting angry with him. It was a weird situation to be in. It was totally understandable that he'd be nervous about me living with Simon. Except…

"He really is like my brother," I insisted, trying to sound as reassuring as I could manage under the circumstances. I was uncomfortable with all the feelings flying around, here. This wasn't usually a topic of conversation with me and the guys I dated. Certainly not with Lucas. In fact, it was slowly dawning on me that this was the longest conversation we'd had without stopping for sex. I shoved the thought away impatiently. We were discussing our issues; clearly, this meant our relationship held some substance. "He and Mel have been together since I was a kid," I offered, softening my gaze. "I swear—I don't have any feelings for him. Not like that." This was something I could say with no thought involved; Simon and I would never be anything more than in-laws. It was an unspoken fact we'd both accepted and agreed with.

Lucas nodded once, still apparently torn, and I couldn't think of anything else to say as far as comforting him went. Digging deep like this wasn't exactly my forte. I much preferred the sexual aspect of us. I took a step toward him and placed my lips gently against his. He kissed back with a reserved amount of fervor, and I pulled back to whisper deeply, "Would it make you feel better if I spent the night with you?"