Yes, guys, I'm still alive, and yes, I'm still going through with the story (of course!) Thank you so much for sticking with me all through this time! And a million 'sorry's for neglecting to update. . .don't worry, today's the last day of internship, and though I still have summer classes to attend right after, I'm prepared with at least three new chapters! And to make up for my boo-boo, I've made them extra-longer. Hope you guys like it! Review, review, and review, and I just might update in less than twelve hours! Cheers! =)

After our feet froze to the bone and we had to be treated for frostbite (just kidding), we got around to buying cups of hot chocolate from Olly and taking off the torture devices they called skates and settled down around one of the large round tables behind the clear plastic wall that separated the ice from the parquet.

I was preoccupied with a lot of things at once, and so I didn't contribute much to the usual Conner chatter, instead just sitting relatively quietly, mulling over my hot chocolate.

I'd managed to skate! I had to work hard at keeping myself from punching a fist into the air triumphantly. Besides, I wouldn't want to inflate Luke's ego even more, or it's gonna have to pay rent, even in a house as large as his. I think I would have to settle for a simple thank you. I was deciding on whether to get him alone right now or at his house when I suddenly remembered his words back on the ice.

Don't think for one second that I'm not gonna get you back for that slap.

Gulp. A public thanks it is.

"Erm, hey," I timidly started to say, and tapped Luke on the shoulder. From what it looked like, he was enumerating a list of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City cheats to Mikey, who was diligently jotting them down on a napkin and being the poster boy of the rapt, loyal student to the experienced teacher. I rolled my eyes and reached over to tap Luke on his shoulder again.

Since when did merely tapping him on the shoulder become so awkward? I'd always smacked him in the face whenever he comes near me.

Now Luke turned to me. "Need something?"

"I, uhm—thanks," I said quickly and sipped a mouthful of chocolate.

His eyes glinted amusedly. "Come again?"

Seriously? This egotistical jerk just seems to get every opportunity to enlarge his already inflated ego.

"I said, thanks," I repeated, ignoring the irritation that's building inside of me.

"For what?"

I sighed exasperatedly. "Well, for practically saving my life on the ice, among others," I added for good measure.

Luke grinned widely. "Sure, whatever."

I exhaled, relieved, before he said, "Nice try. I always thought you'd say thank you somewhere private."

"You're not content with this?" I said disbelievingly.

"It's okay, I guess," he shrugged. Argh, this guy is gonna give me an untimely heart attack!

"Then what do you want?"

"To get you back for that hit you'd sneaked in when I wasn't looking."

Oh no. No, no, no.

"No way in hell, Conner," I hissed, turning away from him.

He just laughed freely. "Sooner or later, I promise."

I resisted the urge to rip my hair out and get a premature bald spot.

oOoOoOo

I threw a wish in the well

Don't ask me, I'll never tell

I looked to you as it fell

And now you're in my way

I'd trade my soul for a wish

Pennies and dimes for a kiss

I wasn't looking for this

But now you're in my way

I was nearly nodding off, squeezed with the others in the back of the van. The only thing keeping from dozing off completely was the possibility that I'd probably be drooling on Luke's shoulder if I even think of closing my eyes. Louie, that prick, snatched the shotgun opportunity away from his cousin and was now bobbing his head along to Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe."

Your stare was holdin'

Ripped jeans, skin was showing

Hot night, wind was blowing

Where d'you think you're going, baby?

Sometimes I just can't shake off the feeling that the powers-that-be just can't get enough of messing with me.

Hey, I just met you

And this is crazy

But here's my number

So call me, maybe?

To my left, Mikey slumped against me with a little snore. Almost all the others were also stealing a nap, with the exception of Luke, Alex (who was, as usual, texting), Louie, Bill (of course! He's the driver, for pete's sake) and moi. Even Ynna, with all the energy of a DuraCell a couple of hours ago, had finally crashed and was snoozing on Luke's lap, her head on Luke's shoulder.

It's hard to look right at you, baby

But here's my number

So call me, maybe?

My eyes were kept from falling completely when something bright-yellow assaulted my face.

"Mmph!" I grabbed the offending yellow object and realized it was a coat. Ynna's coat.

Luke was snickering quietly beside me.

"Get it back on her," I hissed, throwing it back to him.

"Are you stupid? She's going to get suffocated."

"Stop exaggerating, Conner."

"What? She is. To think about it, you look like you're not breathing either. Something wrong?" A corner of his mouth lifted and he peered closely at me, knowing how claustrophobic I'm gonna get.

You took your time with the call

I took no time with the fall

You gave me nothing at all

But still you're in my way

"Get your ass away from me," I snapped, shoving his cheek away.

"What?" The trademark stupid grin was back on his face.

I'd beg and borrow and steal

At first sight, it was real

I didn't know I would feel

But it's in my way

"I meant this." I forcefully pushed his face away and he laughed out loud, resulting in the numerous incensed groans and some "shut the hell up" mutters from the others, rudely roused from their naps.

Luke, being Luke, shrugged it off. "'Twas Ronnie."

David irritably shifted in his seat behind us with some difficulty, since space was not a luxury either of us can afford at the moment. The resulting disturbance rippled around the whole van (except the Untouchable driver's and passenger's seats) and led to some more grumbles and annoyed mutterings. "David, stop rubbing your ass around, you dope," Seth, who was sitting right beside him, snapped and whacked him up the back of his head.

"Who're you calling a dope?" David snapped back, punching Seth's shoulder.

"You!" Seth retorted, pushing David back. Alex, rattled awake on David's other side, growled.

"You're the dope!" David shoved Seth back. By this time, the whole van was awake.

"No, you!"

"NO, you!"

"You guys—" Alex tried to cut in. Lizzie, Ethan, Arielle, Claire, Mikey, Ynna and Charlie were speaking all the same time, trying to subdue the guys. Well, not all of them. Ynna was squealing gleefully and was clapping her hands. Mikey was chanting, "Fight! Fight! Fight!" Claire looked bored and stared out the window instead. Bill and Louie seemed oblivious to the racket behind them.

I shook my head, half-thoughtfully. Goodness knows who taught the children how to deal with testosterone spills. I privately applauded them for their calm.

Luke, who was the cause of all the ruckus, simply chortled to himself. I myself had given up on wondering why and how on earth he can keep smiling like that. Doesn't he know his face can stay like that forever if a gust of wind so much as passes him? Moron.

"Stop shoving me!" Seth was now yelling.

"You were first!" David said, and as if to taunt him, flicked his forehead.

"I—"

"SHUT THE HELL UP!" Alex roared. The car fell silent, except for Carly Rae Jepsen's voice, still singing, apparently as oblivious as Bill and Louie. No one dared moved a muscle.

Go Alex.

"Now look what you've done," Luke said in a low voice, jamming the yellow coat back at my face. My angry yelp was muffled by the material.

Before, you came into my life

I missed you so bad

I missed you so bad

I missed you so, so bad

Before you came into my life

I missed you so bad

And you should know that. . .

So call me, maybe?

oOoOoOoOo

"Guys are stupid," Alex declared later in the evening in the confines of our bedroom. I was getting dressed for bed and Arielle was digging up what looked like a whole duffel bag full of novels.

"Tell me about it," I concurred, thinking about the could've-gone-better thank-you speech that I'd given Luke back there by the rink, only to be more-or-less threatened by the repercussions of the one slap I'd thoughtlessly given the King of Demons himself.

"It's almost inevitable." Even Arielle was agreeing with us now. She groaned. "I think Eric has my copy of Pandemonium. The jerk didn't even think of returning it for the holidays."

"What's that, some kind of book to tell you how to rule the world?" Alex asked.

"Kinda." I smiled.

"You read it?" Arielle stared at me. I shrugged.

"Yeah. I've got all three of Lauren Oliver's works."

Arielle all but dropped on her knees and tugged on the hem of my shirt. "Really? Oh please, please, please lend me one!"

I removed her grasp on my clothes. "Why not? I think I've got e-book copies on my laptop somewhere."

"Yes!" Arielle danced around on tiptoe while Alex gaped openly at us, cellphone abandoned for once.

The amused expression stayed on my face until Arielle finally regained her composure. Which was after about three-quarters of an hour.

No, I was just kidding. It was only ten minutes.

"Done yet?" I said, entertained.

She cleared her throat. "No one hears about this," she growled.

"Sure, whatever." I somehow can't get my mouth to stop smiling.

Alex was shaking her head at us. "I can never understand what kind of joy you geeks get from books."

"Just because you don't know how to read doesn't mean the rest of us don't, too," her sister replied nastily.

Alex waved it off, to my surprise. She'd always been someone who does not take any shit from anyone, but then, maybe she got it from someone else. Arielle, most likely.

"So, what about that e-book?" Arielle prompted impatiently. It was now my turn to shake my head while heading to my bedside table to get my laptop, and that's when something bright on my mattress caught my eye.

"Arielle," I said, "I think I need to drop in on Ynna's room before you get your e-book."

oOoOoOoOo

"But why? I thought Harry was the good guy!"

"Well, he is—"

"Then why are they all avoid-y?"

"Because—"

"He wouldn't open up the Secrets room, would he?"

"Well—"

"And he wouldn't Pe—Pet—Per—turn those people to stone, would he?"

"Ynna—"

"Even Ron's sister—"

"Ynna!" Luke's voice was exasperated.

I stifled my laugh by placing a hand over my mouth and proceeded to tiptoe into the Mikey and Ynna's half-open door. Apparently, Luke was there, and from what I heard, was having a Harry Potter debate with a child. And a one-sided debate, as it looked.

"But Dad—" I heard Ynna start again. Luke, who was stretched out beside the two-year-old on her bed, looked up from the Chamber of Secrets as I walked in, looking relieved that I'd distracted Ynna from all her interrogations. Mikey was nowhere to be found, and I was worried that he might be spending more time with all the other guys. There goes his innocence, or whatever remained of it.

"Hi." I held out Ynna's yellow jacket, the one that Luke had stuffed into my face during the trip back home. "I think this is yours."

"Yay!" Ynna made to get up, but Luke pushed her back gently, getting up himself to retrieve the coat from me.

"Well, what do you say to your Mom?" Luke asked Ynna as he handed her her coat, the stress on the word mom with a touch of mocking. I rolled my eyes but said nothing. I'm going to get back at him anyway.

"Thank you, Mom." Ynna snuggled with the yellow material.

"How nice of your Dad to read the rest of the book with you, honey," I said as sweetly as I could, sitting down on Ynna's other side of the bed. I saw Luke narrow his eyes at me and had to supress another chuckle. "Where's Mikey?"

"He's with Ethan and the rest," Luke answered.

I clucked my tongue. "It's way past his bedtime, honey," I said, winking at him and enjoying his open-mouthed expression. "Don't you think he should be over here by now?"

"He's going to be back soon," Ynna said before stretching out her little body and yawning.

"If you say so, sweetheart." I have to admit, it's kind of fun watching Luke be jerked out of his composure for once, fighting to hide his astonishment at my liberal use of endearments. I am naturally a sweet person, you know; it's only around him that my sadistic, vicious, she-demon side comes out. Really! And I swear, that girl who I supposedly tripped back in fifth grade and ended up in crutches? Not true. And anyway, she's a bitch. Really. What's with all those looks? Don't believe me? Then go to hell you sceptical bunch of losers!

Ynna yawned again and snuggled under the covers. "Good night, Mom. Good night, Dad." She mumbled something else before closing her eyes.

"Hmm?" Luke said, easing the coat away from her.

"I said I'm glad you and Mom aren't fighting anymore. . ." The words slurred together, and I knew she was almost completely asleep. Luke smoothed back the hair from her forehead and we both stared at her for a few minutes before my gaze connected with his.

"So. . ." Luke began uncertainly.

"So what, honey?" I said, winking again at him before getting to my feet, straightening my clothes and making my way out to the hall without looking back, leaving the door ajar.

"Hey," Luke called about five seconds later, catching up with me. I quickened my pace and ignored me, but he easily kept up. Stupid long legs.

I heard him chuckle beside me. "Seriously, Wilcox. . .who knew you could be so—"

"What? Charming? Sweet? Nice? Non-demonic? For your information, sweetheart, I only go Rambo when you're around," I informed him sardonically.

"I was going to say hot, but charming works as well," he replied merrily, and I knew he was beaming cockily even without looking at him.

"Shut up."

"Will not do, ma'am."

"Are you going to follow me all night?" I demanded, halting abruptly and turning to glare at him. I pointed to the other end of the hallway. "Your room's that way."

Luke shrugged. "So, is walking you to your room a crime now?"

"Well, it is you we're talking about, Luke. Ninety-nine percent of what you do can easily be considered a crime. That's a fact."

"Do I look like someone untrustworthy?" He flashed a cocky smirk. Groaning, I threw my hands up and started to brisk-walk along and try to pay no attention to him, but he blocked my way."What now?" I asked tiredly.

"I think I've got a sudden, random hankering for some cookies that Lilia baked this afternoon while we were in the rink."

"And I care. . .why?"

"You're a whiz at lock-picking. Come on." He grabbed my hand and practically dragged me down the stairs with him, rushing straight to the huge, darkened kitchen. He pulled me to the pantry door after switching on some lights.

"So?" Luke said, when I stood there without doing anything.

"So what?"

He pointed to the keyhole. "Pick it."

I heaved a sigh. "Luke, I think you need to get your head checked. Not that you didn't need it years ago. You don't seem to remember that you were the one who taught me lock-picking when we were six."

He didn't miss a beat. "I forgot."

"Lock-picking is not something you can easily for—"

"Oh, hush," he interrupted, stepping closer and raising a hand to my hair. I broke off, my heartbeat suddenly thumping loudly against the inside of my chest.

Now this is why I don't like being alone with him.

Touché. But it feels good, yes?

Can I just ask why you suddenly developed a crappy French accent?

It's Italian, you freak. It's the language of luuuuuuuurve.

French is the language of love, idiot.

Whatever. Charlie was right, you do sidetrack others if you've got something to hide. Even from yourself.

At this point, I wouldn't find it hard to believe if there was some kind of trampoline inside my chest and my heart kept leaping up and down on it as Luke's hand touched my hair, as if to caress it. He then grinned and pulled out a hairpin.

"There." He triumphantly displayed the tiny hair accessory and held it out to me. "Now do it."

I sighed, mostly to myself, and took it. "Don't think I'm doing this for you. I think my sweet tooth suddenly went loose."

He leaned languidly against the wall beside the pantry door. "Sure, let's go with that," were the words he just said while I picked and jiggled the knob as quietly as I could, feeling as if we're robbing a bank. I was also very aware of the steady gaze I knew he had on me, and I wanted to finish the job as quickly as possible.

Except—

"Were you looking down my shirt, Conner?"

"What?" Luke looked up, surprised. "I wasn't!"

Yeah, right. As if the vivid blush on his cheeks said otherwise.

"OW!"

"Shut up, Luke. You're gonna wake up the whole house."

"You punch like a dude!" Scowling, Luke rubbed his arm and stuck his tongue out at me.

"Yeah, well, think twice before you do anything like that again. And stop smirking—you deserved it this time," I warned, knowing what he was thinking at this very moment.

"I didn't say anything. You know, you'd make a fine opponent of Manny Pacquaio's," he mused. "This better not leave a mark," he threatened.

"Why, afraid of showing the bruise you got from a girl?" When he glared at me, I smiled sweetly. "You big baby."

Luke rolled his eyes. "Just pick the damn lock."

At last, the lock clicked open and Luke let out a cry of delight. "Yes!" He easily reached up one of the top shelves without using the pantry ladder (and mind you, they really were that high, except for the fact that no measure of height can come between Luke and his sweets. It's another thing we have in common. Drats.) and nabbed the cookie jar from it.

Before I knew it, the once-full jar was now left with only a third of its original content.

"Crap," I muttered as I finished my last cookie. "Lilia is going to kill us."

"Eh." Luke dusted his hands off and took a swig of coffee, ignoring my raised eyebrow. We were sitting down on the small island in the middle of the huge kitchen, the cookie jar sitting pitifully in front of us.

Why, Veronica? Why did you have to get my cookies?

Oh God, did I just imagine a cookie jar guilt me for agreeing to one of Luke's crazy schemes? I desperately need a life.

"Are you even planning to get some sleep tonight, Mr. Starbucks?" Oh, alright, so I was out of some clever names for the pyjama-clad teenage coffee-slurping male in front of me. So what? Sue me.

"No, I don't sleep at night. I'm actually Edward fucking Cullen," he replied, deadpan.

"Have you been reading that Twilight shit again? That trash rots what remains of your brain. Besides, vampires do sleep, you know. The real ones, at least."

His face took on a slightly puzzled expression. "I thought chicks liked Twilight."

"Shows what you know. So what now, you picked chicks up by dropping gay vampire lines on them? How original," I said drily.

Luke shrugged. "They liked it. But then again, they always liked whatever I told them, you know?"

"Shows what they know," I muttered.

"Or that they were not blind. Or anything," Luke added in a low voice.

I raised an eyebrow. "What?"

Luke cleared his throat. "Anyway, do you have any particular reasons of finding out my plans for the night?" He put his coffee cup down and smirked at me.

And here we go again.

Yeah, here we go again.

I am so over this.

Then why not take a different approach?

What?

Try taking him up on his "offers." See how he reacts.

You're supposed to be guidance, you moron, not some manual on how to deal with being propositioned north of.

Hey, it was just a suggestion, and besides, one major factor on why he never knocks it off is because he always knows how you react. So go on, shock the pants out of him.

That sounds kinda sketchy.

Whatever. Go for it, girl!

Using what little amount of flirting I knew, I raised a hand twirled hair around my finger subtly. "Oh, I don't know. . ." I drawled, watching his reaction. "Maybe I have plans, too. . ." I trailed off. Damn. I've been watching way too many crappy rom-com movies for me to actually act this one out.

Note to self: Never watch The Ugly Truth ever again.

I told you it was shit.

But it was Katherine Heigl!

Sure enough, he looked fairly surprised, but I had to give him props for keeping up quickly. "And those plans would include. . .?"

I shrugged and tossed my hair behind my shoulder. "I don't know. Maybe I'm not counting on getting some sleep tonight, too."

I basked in the glory of confusing Luke for once in my life. Ha. Take that.

He'd somehow moved closer to me, rooting me to the stool I was sitting on next to the island.

"I'm listening," he said, almost whispering.

I raised my eyebrows. "I don't think you're interested," I said coolly, making to stand up but his hand on my shoulder pushed me back down again.

Okay, this is enough. I've had enough fun for the night.

But His Lordship (and I say this sarcastically..) seemed to think differently. He stepped closer. "Oh, no, I don't think so," Luke said in a darkly amused tone. "You're not getting away with something as vague as that."

"I can, too," I objected, but before I could do anything else, he stepped even closer, and claustrophobia kicked in. I focused on breathing evenly.

"I beg to differ," he replied, enjoying the moment. "Tell me, is this your day or something? Because I swear you were singing a different tune just a couple of minutes ago." He smirked.

Gasp! How dare he bring up a girl's day. . .or something. Oh, he is so going to get punched in the gut for that.

"Don't even think about it," he whispered right in my ear, and I fought hard to keep the shivers down. Was he some kind of mind-reader? And then I remembered that I unconsciously curled my hands into fists at my side. This defense mechanism's starting to become a reflex, eh?

"Don't even think about what?"

Luke raised a hand and brushed a strand of hair from my face. The spot he came in contact with grew warm and before I knew it, the warmth had spread to my cheeks and neck.

Oh, mother of pearl. . .

"That reminds me," he said, almost to himself. He then looked directly at me and grinned. I swallowed. "I think you owe me something. . ."

And with that, he started to lean closer to me.

Every remaining brain cell in my head was screaming, "No! NO!" yet I was completely petrified, unable to do anything as second by second he came closer to me. Oh God, why did I even have to slap the bastard. . .

Six inches. Four inches. Two inches. No distance at all. . .

BANG!

We both jumped a good four feet into the air while Arielle called out at the top of her lungs.

"Ronnie! What time were you planning to—oh." She broke off, staring bewilderedly at the both of us and the, erm, lack of personal space in between.

And if that wasn't enough, Mikey came running into the room, but not before crashing into Arielle.

"What are you guys doing here?" Mikey asked, evidently surprised at the presence of the three of us at the kitchen at such an untimely hour of the night. His gaze strayed to the almost-empty cookie jar at the island near us.

"Oh boy," Mikey slowly said, his stare flitting to the jar, to Luke, and then to me. "What have you done?"

Arielle tore her incredulous gaze at us and to the jar. Geez, this jar is getting way too much unnecessary attention tonight. "You two do know that your asses would be profoundly kicked in the morning, right?"

Luke and I hastily moved a good five steps away from each other before hanging our heads guiltily.

"It was her," Luke muttered.

Excuse me, it was who now?

"What?"

"Well, you did pick the lock," he replied matter-of-factly.

"Well, I wouldn't have if someone did not drag me all the way down here instead of leaving me alone and going to his room and do whatever Lukes do!" I seethed.

"You could have easily said no," he pointed out, his voice rising.

"Well, you didn't really give me any choice on the matter, did you?" I crossed my arms, glaring holes at the floor.

I can't believe him! And here I thought we were getting along so well for the first time since third grade.

Goes to show good things seldom last, sweetheart.

Who said it was a good thing, anyway?

"Guys, guys," Arielle said soothingly, "no need to do an all-out WWE match right now if you don't want to wake Lilia up."

Luke and I were still glaring daggers at each other. This guy just had the nerve to look at me that way after what he just said?

"But we promise, we'd hire a reputable funeral service after Lilia's done with the two of you," Mikey remarked.

"Why are you doing here, anyway?" Luke snapped, breaking the glaring contest and levelling his death-stare at the ten-year-old instead.

To his credit, Mikey did not completely flinch away. Just a bit. "Er,. ."

"Don't be stupid, Luke, like you always are," I interjected. "Mikey's obviously trying to sneak in some cookie-time himself."

"I was not," Mikey vehemently denied, turning pink.

"Leave Mikey out of this," Arielle snapped. "Don't take your frustration out on us. Look, I'm sorry if we'd accidentally walked in on your moment—"

"What moment?" Luke and I chorused. Now our death-stares have joined forces against Arielle now.

"Whatever, you guys. Denial isn't just a river in Egypt—"

"Like we haven't heard that one before," Luke muttered.

Touché to that one.

"But we've got to solve the situation at hand," Arielle said loudly, talking over Luke. "I mean, what with the cookies and—"

"What about the cookies?" A fifth voice asked.

We all turned around in horror.

"Uh—good e-evening, Lilia," Arielle weakly greeted.

I'm reminding you guys, review! =) Oh, and sorry again for taking so long. Babblingbug19, out. XD