Quick reminder. This story takes place in 2003, so before iPhones. Celeste has an original Motorola Razr ^_^


I was rudely awoken by the irksome ringing of my cellphone. I knew it was Tabitha because it was her tone blaring through the speaker of my phone. With eyes half shut I glanced at my clock.

7:06. What the hell does she want?

I reached for my phone and flipped it open to answer.

"Hello." My groggy tone gave away that I had just woken up.

"Rise and shine, lazy bones," Tabitha's voice commanded. "I had a shitty day and even shittier night. I need some retail therapy stat!"

Why the hell are you calling me then?

"How long have you been up?"

"I don't know. I didn't really get any sleep last night. Now get your ass out of bed and meet me for coffee in thirty."

"Tabitha, I just got up."

"So?"

So? I want to sleep more!

"Five more minutes," Charlie mumbled behind me.

There was a brief pause on the line. "Who was that?" A hint of intrigue in her voice.

Crap! Do I tell her, or do I lie? "Nobody." I decided to go with the lie.

"Oh, whatever, just get your ass out of bed." Her interest was now gone. "We've got shopping to do."

I was about to agree and hang up when Charlie rolled over and started to spoon me through our blankets. An involuntary gasp escaped my lips as I felt him against me.

"Five more minutes," he once again said in his sleep as he draped his arm over me and nuzzled his face into my neck. My heart raced with the contact.

"Charlie." Oh crap! I'd said his name without thinking. Hopefully she didn't notice.

"Wait, Charlie?" Crap, she did. "As in, the guy you keep gallivanting off to see?" Her interest had been piqued again.

"Yes."

"So you finally got some action with him?" I could picture her sly smirk through her pretentious tone.

"No, he just spent the night."

"Wait. He's sleeping in your bed, and you didn't have sex with him?" Disdain now dripped from her was weird to have her mood shift with every sentence.

"It's a long story." I pinched the bridge of my nose, trying hard to keep the irritation out of my own voice.

"Well you better explain when I see you."

Pretentious bitch. I thought the words I never dared to say out loud.

"I'm gonna need more than thirty minutes."

"Ugh, fine!" The irritation was back. "I'll give you an hour, but you better get your ass here, and bring him with you."

She hung up before I could give a reply.

Shit! Now what was I supposed to do? I didn't think the guys wanted to come with me while my friends and I went shopping. Russell least of all seemed the type to agree to that. And I wasn't exactly ready to say bye to them just yet either. After the early morning we'd had yesterday I had really been looking forward to sleeping in.

Charlie's warmth behind me sapped any desire to move. I felt so comfortable with him holding me.

Oh, how I could get used to this!

I did my best to lock the feeling of him holding me into my memory. The gentle strength of his arms pulling me closer. The warmth of his breath against the back of my neck. The slow rhythm of his heart compared to the pounding of my own. I very nearly drifted back to sleep in his arms when my obnoxious bladder decided to demand my attention. I squeezed my eyes tighter in attempt to will it away, but my efforts were in vain.

Letting out an annoyed huff at the loss of this precious moment, I carefully, but reluctantly, pried myself free from Charlie's grasp and slid off the bed. I heard him mutter softly as he shifted himself on the bed and turned around to look at him. His sleeping face was so utterly adorable that I wanted to stay there and watch him, but nature's call kept getting louder, so I left the room.

After using the bathroom, I quietly made my way to the kitchen, not thinking that anyone else was up, and not wanting to wake them. I was surprised to round the corner and find Russell leaning against the counter next to my stove, wearing only his new shorts, and drinking a cup of what I assumed to be coffee. I didn't take him for a tea drinker.

"Y'er kitchen's full of nothin' but crap," he greeted with an unimpressed look as he lifted his mug as an example.

"Well, good morning to you too," I replied sarcastically.

"Whadya eat anyway?"

I walked to the pantry and grabbed the box of Honey Nut Cheerios. "My maid usually brings stuff over to cook. I haven't been home a lot recently, so she hasn't kept much here."

I made my way to the fridge where I pulled out the milk. "Besides, breakfast has never been a big meal for me." Shutting the door and placing the two items on the counter on the other side of the stove, I took a bowl from the cupboard and poured myself breakfast. Retrieving a spoon from the drawer, I turned back around to face Russell. I had meant to look at his face, but his exposed torso was too delectable to ignore.

I heard a deep chuckle and my eyes shot back up to meet his.

"Would it help ya to focus if I put a shirt on?" A wicked smirk spread across his face.

I glared back at him. Okay, so he'd busted me. But I wouldn't let him have the upper hand. I locked on to his emerald eyes and did my best not to waver under his brazen gaze. There was something about his posture that reminded me of a predator stalking its prey. I felt that sense of intimidation again but this time it almost seemed like he was trying to unnerve me. I mentally shook my head as I replied, "No, I'm fine. Besides, you're not my type."

Well, under different circumstances he could have been, but I had my sights set on Charlie...for now at least.

"Yeah, you ain't mine either, hun."

Hun? Is that some Southern thing to call someone? Oh, whatever. "Yeah, I can tell."

He gave a heavy sigh and his demeanor changed. No longer did he come across as intimidating and cocksure, he now seemed almost, dejected. "Celeste, look. I don't hate you."

"Could've fooled me."

"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry. I lost my temper last night. I just…" He fidgeted with the coffee cup in his hands. "You remind me a bit too much of some girls I've known, and I don't wanna see Charlie get hurt 'cause you can't control yourself."

"Because I can't control myself? Why is it always about me and what I do?"

"You tellin' me you didn't look at Charlie and think 'I wonder if he could make my fantasies a reality'?" I saw the anger flare back up in his eyes but his voice remained steady.

Oh, crap! I had. "I…" My voice trailed off as I didn't know how to respond.

"My point exactly."

My own indignation rose up in response to his accusations. Where does he get off condemning me when Charlie's at least partially to blame?

I stopped short of yelling at him when I noticed the melancholy look on his face. Well this is certainly a change from last night. Was this really the same guy? It was a side of Russell that I hadn't expected to see. It seemed a bit out of character for him to show vulnerability. He turned to look out the window as he took a sip of his coffee and I realized something.

"You really care about your friends, don't you?"

He nodded, still looking out the window.

I wished that I had friends who cared enough about me to get upset when they thought someone might hurt me. They seemed more likely to take the side of whoever'd been mean to me.

"I…I don't want to hurt Charlie."

He sighed again as he turned back to face me. "Not intentionally at least."

"No, not at all." I bit back a sob. "But, I know he's too good for me, so…"

"You're afraid he's gonna hurt you?" Russell filled the silence with what I had been too scared to say myself. I nodded my head in reply. "You've had some pretty crap boyfriends, haven't you?"

It was my turn to break eye contact as I nodded again. If only he knew how crappy they had all been.

He let caustic laugh. "Yeah, guys can be real assholes, can't we?"

I blew a puff of air out my nose as I smiled. "Yeah, you can." I looked back at him for emphasis.

The wicked grin spread across his face again as he caught my attitude.

"Yeah, I know. I'm the worst."

I shook my head and chuckled. "I don't get it."

"Get what?"

"You were furious with me last night. So why are you being so friendly now?"

He ran his fingers through his hair as he gave a half-hearted laugh. "Cause I'm a major ass that doesn't know how to control my temper?"

"Ya don't say?" I gave him a droll stare.

My sarcasm brought a smile back to his face. "Yeah, sorry 'bout that." His attention was once again drawn to the window. I looked as well to see if there was anything in particular that he kept looking at, but nothing stood out. "I guess all I really mean to say is, don't rush Charlie. He ain't ready yet."

"Why do I get the feeling that he'll never be ready?" I slumped into the counter as I jammed a spoonful of cereal into my mouth and chewed with frustration.

"N'ah, he will, just give him time." He turned back to me. "He's got his own silly little romantic dreams he can't let go of."

I swallowed the remainder of cereal in my mouth and scoffed. "Like staying a virgin until he's married?" I rolled my eyes at how ludicrous I still found the whole thing.

"Among others." He nodded in agreement.

"Like?" I prompted.

"The hell if I know!" he sneered. "It ain't like guys sit around and chat about our hopes and dreams and all that other mushy crap."

I held back my laugh at the image that conjured up.

"Fine," I huffed. No point in pressing for an answer I'd never get.

I was just about to ask him why the thickness of his accent changed so much when Phoenix walked into the kitchen, and I was relieved, and a little sad, to see that he was fully dressed.

"Slim pickin's for breakfast," Russell informed as he held out his mug again.

Phoenix looked around, spotted the cereal I had left out, and decided to pour himself a bowl.

"You two getting along this morning?" he asked as he put the milk back in the fridge. He leaned against its door and took a bite of cereal.

"'Course we are. Right, Celeste?" Russell flashed a congenial smile in my direction.

"If you say so." I shrugged with my lackluster agreement.

"Uh, huh." Phoenix seemed a bit skeptical but let it slide.

Pixie ran into the kitchen and made a beeline for her food dish where she then sat herself down and began yipping incessantly for her breakfast. Wonder where she's been. I sighed as I got up to retrieve her bowl and walk back to the pantry to fill it.

As I set her bowl back down on the ground, Charlie and Chandler sauntered into the kitchen. I was a little bummed to see that they were both wearing their shirts, though I suppose it was for the best, and noticed Russell coming in behind them had now put his on as well. I picked up my cereal as I smiled at Charlie and he returned it bashfully before looking away.

Is he being shy again? I wondered what could've brought on his sudden shift in mood. It was almost the same as after we first met. Wait. Had he not been asleep when he was snuggling me this morning?… No, he was definitely talking in his sleep. Did I do something in my sleep then? A brief moment of panic crept in as I had a vague recollection of something I might've said. Surely I didn't… My mind raced as the vivid dream I'd had last night slowly came back to me.

Oh, whatever. No sense dwelling on it. I just hoped he hadn't been awake to hear me.

"So, what's the plan for today?" Chandler's question interrupted my train of thought. His light green eyes gazed at me inquisitively and I peered back, hoping to pinpoint those little hints that verified he was Chandler. Aside from the location of his beauty mark, I had yet to find any.

I glanced at the clock on the microwave.

7:24

I had a little more than a half-hour before I had to be at the coffee shop to meet up with my friends.

I sighed. I had to break it to them eventually that Tabitha wanted to meet them.

"Well, I had hoped for a slow morning, but one of my friends called and wants me to join her for coffee and shopping in about thirty minutes, and she told me to bring you guys with me."

"Wait, why does she want to meet us?" Charlie inquired.

"Because, Charlie, you talk in your sleep, and she knows you're here."

"I did?" He seemed genuinely confused.

"I was on the phone and you said 'Five more minutes'."

"Oops, sorry."

Yeah, so he hadn't been awake to know he was holding me.

"You talk in your sleep too, ya know," Chandler informed.

"I do?" He nodded and the dread came back to me. Oh, crap! "What did I say?"

"You don't remember?"

I shook my head. Hoping that he would provide more information I lied, "No."

Chandler turned to look at Charlie who's cheeks flushed as he looked away. "Then never mind. Don't worry about it."

"Uh, okay."

What had I said? By Charlie's response, I had my suspicions it was something that I wouldn't actually say out loud. I did my best to push the embarrassment down. There really wasn't much sense dwelling on it if they weren't going to tell me what I'd said. Maybe Charlie will talk to me about it later? That thought made me even more nervous, so I quickly pushed it down as well. Dwelling on the future wasn't gonna do me much good either.

"So, why does she want to meet us?" Chandler repeated his brother's question. I welcomed the change in subject.

"She wants to know who I keep running off to see."

"Oh."

"Okay, I guess," Charlie shrugged.

"If it's all the same to y'all, I'd rather not meet them," Russell interjected.

"Fair enough," I replied. "Phoenix and Chandler, I guess that means you don't really have to come either. She doesn't know you guys are here and she's only interested in Charlie really."

"N'ah, I'm kinda interested to meet your L.A. friends," Phoenix noted.

"Like I'd leave my brother's side," Chandler declared as he threw his arm around Charlie's shoulders.

The idea of them meeting my L.A. friends brought a mixture of fear and intrigue.

"Kay. Well it takes about ten minutes to get there and we're supposed to be there around 8:10," I informed.

All four guys turned to glance at the clock on my microwave.

"I guess that means we should pack up so we can leave afterward then," Charlie observed.

"Well, it ain't like we got that much to pack up anyway," Russell jeered.

"True." Charlie tipped his head in agreeance.

"Well, whatever the case may be, just make sure we're out the door by 8:00," I added.

"So, got anything to eat besides cereal?" Chandler asked as he probed my pantry.

"N'ah! Her kitchen's more bare than a Piggly Wiggly before a hurricane," Russell sarcastically informed. Chuckling to himself at what I assumed was meant to be a witty comment that had been lost in translation. Whatever he had said, I could at least tell it was meant as an insult.

I was tempted to slug him in the arm but he was too far away, so I settled for a scowl. He just winked back and took another sip of his coffee.

Was he always this obnoxiously sarcastic? Ugh, whatever. Charlie's mood swings were hard enough to handle without having to think about Russell's too. I turned my attention back to Chandler.

"You guys can get pastries when we meet up with my friends," I offered.

"You mean I can have more than one?" Chandler's eyes lit up as he asked.

"What? No."

"But you said pastries, like we could have more."

"I meant it as all you guys as a plural want a pastry."

"But I need food for energy." His lip turned out in an utterly pathetic, yet extremely adorable, pout.

I shook my head with a chuckle. "Fine, you guys can get however many you want. Within reason of course." I added the caveat on the off chance they wanted to buy out the shop.

"Hurray!" Chandler held his arms up in victory and I laughed again as I recalled how excited Charlie had been after I'd offered to buy his food when we first met. As much as I was trying to get better at telling them apart, it was fun to see just how similar they were.

"Russell, since you don't really want to meet my friends, you can stay here and the rest of us can go in my car."

"What the hell am I supposed to do here all by myself?" He seemed almost offended by my offer.

And here I was trying to be polite.

"All by myself," Charlie and Chandler sang dramatically. I clamped my mouth shut to stifle my snicker.

Russell shook his head. "I may not wanna meet yer friends, but that don't mean I wanna stay cooped up here while y'all go out. I'm sure there's other places I can hang out while y'all shop."

"Fair enough," I replied, noting again how thick his drawl was today. "We'd just have to take your truck then too."

"Fine by me."

"We should probably leave the surfboards here then. Don't want 'em stolen out of the back of the truck," Charlie pointed out.

"Yeah, sure, that's not a problem," I replied. "You'd just have to come back for them obviously."

He smiled. "Obviously."

I quickly finished my cereal and then went to get dressed.

The guys really didn't have anything to pack and they were able to get ready far faster than I was. I knew I didn't have to dress up, but Tabitha had always been critical of my taste in fashion, so I had to be careful with my choices. As I did my makeup I felt as though I was putting a mask back on. Hiding who I really was in order to show the face my friends expected to see. As I examined my reflection in my vanity, a sudden heaviness came over me and I wanted even less to see my L.A. friends.

I wonder how pissed Tabitha would be if I backed out on her? After some debate, I decided it was in my best interest not to find out. Besides, I didn't want to leave any of my other friends alone with her, not with the bad mood I knew she was in.

I had just put the cap back on my lipstick when I heard a soft knock on the door.

"Come in." I turned in my seat to face the door.

The door slowly opened as Charlie made his way into the room. Reflexively, my heart began to beat faster.

"Hey, can we talk for a second?" His voice was hesitant and my pulse quickened even more. I wasn't sure if I was ready to discuss what I feared was on his mind, but I nodded my head anyway. He came into the room but remained by the door, closing it slightly behind him. "So do you really not remember saying anything last night after we got in bed?"

So he is gonna ask me. I did my best to sound nonchalant in my reply.

"Goodnight?" It was the only thing I could remember. Well, out loud at least.

"Aside from that."

"Um, no?"

"I guess you did talk in your sleep then." He broke eye contact as he stuck his hands in his pockets and kicked at the edge of my pink faux fur rug.

"Yeah, I must've." Now I felt like I was the one playing dumb. The vague dream was solidifying itself even more and I was now about 90 percent certain of what Charlie had heard me say. No one had ever mentioned to me before that I talked in my sleep. So why did it have to start now, and why those words? I felt like I could die of embarrassment. My only hope of recovery now was to feign ignorance and ride this out like it was nothing.

Charlie exhaled a long breath. He didn't seem satisfied with my answer and I feared he would push until he got the truth out of me. I steeled my resolve to continue lying as he stepped closer. He kneeled in front of me and for once I found myself looking down at him. I faltered beneath the sincerity of his light green eyes.

I love you.

I was grateful that the involuntary response had only appeared as moderate shock. Saying it again to myself confirmed my fear that I had in fact said it out loud last night as I drifted to sleep.

He can't know how I feel yet. I'm not ready to tell him. The thought of truly opening myself up to love someone still frightened me.

I recoiled from his hand as he reached out and he hesitated. He sighed again as he gently caressed my cheek.

"It's okay, Celeste. Whatever it was you said, I can wait to hear you say it when you're awake." He rose slightly and leaned forward to kiss me softly on the forehead, allowing his lips to linger there as he slowly exhaled. Pulling away from me, he tucked my hair behind my ear. He opened his mouth to speak again just as Chandler popped into the room.

"We ready to go?" he asked.

"How do you always have such bad timing?" The aggravation in Charlie's voice was palpable.

"It's a talent." Chandler feigned ignorance at his brother's irritation as he smiled cheerfully.

Yeah right. With how well-timed his interruption had been, I had my suspicions that he'd been waiting outside the door. Charlie just rolled his eyes and dropped his hands from me entirely.

"Yeah, I'm ready if you guys are," I replied as I stood up and moved slightly away from Charlie, relieved that my secret remained safe for the time being. I quickly gathered my things and we met the other guys by my front door.

As we walked back toward the garages, Russell looked at the back of the main house and asked, "How many rooms that house got anyway?"

"Five," I replied candidly. "Why?"

"If it's got that many rooms, then why build a dinky little two-bedroom house in the backyard fer yer folks? Couldn't they've just moved into the main house?"

"Huh…you've got a point." I opened the side door to the one-car garage and we walked in as I opened the main door. "I honestly have no idea, sorry."

"You really are clueless, ain't ya? Can I call you Cher?"

I shot him another glare but quietly commended him for his Clueless reference. Then I found it odd that he even knew the movie at all.

"Don't worry about it, Celeste. Russell's just letting his curiosity get the better of him," Phoenix informed as they followed me across the driveway.

"Am not!" Russell retorted as I punched in the code to open the door to the garage his truck was parked in. As Russell jumped into the bed of his truck, my mind instantly registered that my dad's Mercedes-Benz was now parked on the other side. Not unusual, I just hoped he didn't come out while we were still here.

"I'll help you with the boards," Chandler offered as he stood in front of the tailgate.

"Thanks," Russell replied. He and Chandler began quickly unloading the boards from the truck.

"Does your dad have a kid, too?" Phoenix asked as he looked at the pale blue S500.

"No. Why?"

"He's got a child seat in the back of his car."

"What?" I moved so I could see inside. Sure enough, there was a pink child's seat in the back, a protector to mat between it and the light gray leather seats. "Now that's weird."

How had I never noticed that before? Well, truth be told, I'd never looked into the car before. So that answers that question.

"When was the last time you even saw your dad?" Charlie asked as he stood next to me and looked inside.

"I don't know. Christmas?" Well, I had seen him a handful of times in passing, but I didn't think those really counted since we never interacted except for a quick awkward glances.

"Wow, you really don't talk much with your dad, do you?" Chandler remarked.

"No, I've never really had a reason to." I tried my best not to get annoyed with his question. It wasn't Chandler's fault that I didn't like talking about my family. "I mean, I didn't even see him for my birthday when he gave me the Porsche. It was just in the garage with a card and the title in my name."

"Wow, lucky you to get a Porsche for yer birthday." I couldn't tell if Russell was being sarcastic or sincere.

"Well he only gave it to me so my mom couldn't take it from him in the divorce."

"Then why would he give you a Porsche only to buy a Mercedes? That doesn't make any sense," Phoenix pointed out.

"I don't know." After my dad gave me the Porsche in April I didn't see any other cars parked in the two-car garage and I assumed it was because my dad was never home. The Mercedes showed up in the beginning of June and this was only my third time seeing it. It dawned on me then, however, that I actually hadn't any random garage encounters with my dad since he gave me the Porsche. Huh… I mused to myself before adding out loud. "Maybe my parent's divorce is finalized and so he decided to get something nice to celebrate?"

"Maybe."

"Well, that ain't a baby seat, and it's facing forward, so I'd guess his daughter's at least three years old," Russell observed. I was slightly thrown off that he knew so much about car seats. I wasn't even really aware what all the different configurations indicated.

"I don't get it. If he's had a kid this whole time, then why did he drive the Porsche? It's backseat really isn't the best for fitting car seats in, believe me. Petra's barely fits."

"Maybe he got a new girlfriend and it's her daughter?" Chandler suggested.

"Maybe."

"Well, are you sure this is your dad's car?" Phoenix inquired.

"What? Why wouldn't it be?" The thought had never crossed my mind before that the car could've belonged to anyone but my dad. It seemed an absurd thought and I honestly couldn't think of anyone else who could've been living in the main house. I mean, if this isn't my dad's car, then where is his? I hadn't seen any car besides the Mercedes, so clearly, only one other person lived here. Well, plus a daughter. I added as I recalled the child seat again.

"No reason I guess." He shrugged. I had the sense he was keeping something from me but I didn't really care.

"Whatever. Can we just go? We're gonna be late."

"Yeah, sure."