A/N: I don't usually put these up here but I did something different with this chapter. The first part is a basic description of Erik's project. It just goes through the scenes from previous chapters in the story (mostly) that he included in it. It's not the same as a real video montage, so if you don't want to read through it, feel free to skip ahead to the divider. If you do choose to read it, see if you can remember off-hand which part of the story the scenes are from (minus the one with Erik's mom of course). Just a little game I guess. Thanks!

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The video opens with a scene of waves calmly lapping against the shore. The camera pans upward to show three friends racing on jet skis and laughing as they splash each other with the wake.

This fades to a woman in her late forties bouncing a baby on her knee.

"Relationships are an amazing part of life," the woman says, "They keep us connected to each other and give us some sense of identity. Without them I wouldn't have been a wife or be a mother or a grandmother now."

The woman pauses to cuddle and coo at the baby she's holding.

"I don't know Erik," she continues, "there are all sorts of relationships, but they're all important in understanding people I guess."

The video cuts to a boy with dark hair and green eyes sitting in front of a black background.

He says, "My name's Raphael Van Rossum, I'm twenty-one and I'm a computer science major."

A voice from behind the camera says, "If you had to sum yourself up in five adjectives, what would they be?"

The boy replies, "Observant, honest, funny…. Nice?" He pauses for a while before chuckling to himself, "Can we change the question to four things?"

"Nope, pick one more!" the cameraman says, "I know you can think of something."

The boy stares off camera and the tension in the scene is almost palpable. "Fine," he says, "Earnest. I'm really earnest."

The scene fades out and into another young man with brown hair and matching eyes. His arms are folded and he has a bored look on his face.

"I'm not going to lie for you, even if you are my friend," he says in a dry tone.

"Then don't," the cameraman laughs.

"Okay then, he's arrogant, whiny, obnoxious, annoying and just plain old boring. And that's just a drop in the bucket for what I feel for him," the brown-eyed boy answers and smiles sarcastically.

The next cut goes back to the boy named Raphael sitting against the black background.

"Can't you see the parallels to our own relationship?" he says, practically yelling to someone off camera, "I could have easily reassured you about where I wanted our relationship to go, but you didn't talk to me." He pauses, takes a breath and continues, "You never talk to me."

"I… I don't know what to say," the cameraman sputters.

Raphael lets out an expletive and stands up to start pacing. "I want to get to know you, Erik," he says more calmly, "Honestly, I do. But you don't let me in at all. I've given you time – two weeks – because I thought you just needed to warm up to me first, but it hasn't seemed to help. And if that wasn't enough time and I'm rushing you then I'll apologize right now and hope you'll be able to forgive me."

Another cut shows the empty seat and the black background. Off screen the voice of Raphael says, "If you really want me to do this, it has to be a reciprocal thing. You can't be the only one asking the questions."

The video cuts to black for three beats before clips of a young couple fade in. The couple are shown lounging around near a pool, cuddled up on a couch and then finally, sitting next to each other.

"Ok," says the cameraman, "What five words would you use to describe Raphael?"

"Loyal," the boy answers.

"And understanding!" the girl adds, "He's super understanding."

"He's strong. Emotionally and physically," the boy describes.

"But he's also really intense too," says the girl, "in the best way possible though."

The couple look at each other thoughtfully and they both suddenly crack a smile. "He's childish!" the girl says with a laugh.

"More like child-like," the boy clarifies and flashes a grin at his girlfriend, "We had this conversation the other day."

The scene fades away from the couple and onto an empty couch.

"I'm not going to ask you about what happened today," says the voice of Raphael from somewhere out of frame. "I'm not," he continues, "because I can tell it's personal for you and as much as I want to get to know you, I want you to be able to talk to me about stuff on your own. I mean, we're friends right?"

A second voice snorts and says, "Right. Friends with benefits."

"Yeah, I guess," Raphael says unsurely, "Is that… Is that all you want from this?"

A boy with curly blond hair and brown eyes walks into frame.

"Fuck Raphael, I don't know," he says, "I mean, I like you, and you're really fucking attractive but can we just take things slow? Do we have to define 'us' just yet?"

"No, no, of course not," Raphael says and walks over to hug the curly-haired boy, "We can take it slow. I just wasn't sure how you felt about me."

The next cut shows the two boys cuddled on the couch together before fading out and into a shot of Raphael in a canoe at the park.

"I still really want to know, what five words would you use to describe yourself?" asks the cameraman.

"I've been thinking about it and I've come up with the perfect words," says Raphael.

"Uh huh, which are?"

"Observant, honest, funny, nice and earnest," he says confidently.

"Wait," the cameraman says confusedly, "Those are the exact same words you said last time."

"I know," Raphael replies, "And they're completely accurate."

"But… they're so plain."

Raphael grins and says, "That's exactly it Erik. I'm plain. I'm regular. I'm just a normal guy like you, and regardless of whatever else I might also be, those are the words that I think encompass me as a person."

"Once again, I think you're underestimating yourself," the cameraman says after a moment.

Raphael rolls his eyes. "Oh yeah?" he asks, "Well then what five words would you use to describe me?"

Another pause and then the cameraman replies, "I would keep earnest, because you definitely are. Then I'd say you're... dynamic. Charming, of course, but also humble. And lastly, hm… compassionate. Those are the five words I'd use to describe you."

Raphael stares just past the camera, stunned. "That's… That's not me," he says with a shake of his head, "I'm not all those things."

The shot fades out and background music picks up. A scene with Raphael on stage singing out to a crowd of people cuts in abruptly and a montage of his performance is shown. He strikes a final pose, and the crowd goes wild with squeals and applause and the video slowly fades to black.

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Chapter 18
The Crash and Burn

I felt as though I'd kicked a puppy that only had three legs. Basically, like shit.

There were a number of times on the way back to my apartment when I was tempted to turn around and go apologize for what I'd said and try to make everything better, but I didn't. And I wish I could say that Raphael tried to call me nonstop as I made my way home, but that didn't happen either.

Instead, my phone sat silently in my lap as I drove all the way home and then on my table for the rest of the afternoon and for the entire night. As much as I wanted to call him to talk about everything, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I was the one who had declared that we were on a break after all; I couldn't just call him up and try to reverse that decision.

I was so torn about the whole situation. On the one hand I definitely felt that he needed time to reconcile his feelings about his dad at least a little bit, and Alex had been right that he needed to do it alone.

On the other hand, I also had to reconcile my own feelings about the situation and about Raphael. The further I got from Raphael's apartment, the heavier my chest felt. I wanted to go back to him and tell him… something. Something that would make things right.

As I thought about it throughout the evening, I assured myself that I'd made the right decision for the both of us. It didn't stop me from feeling horrible about it, but it did stop me from picking up the phone.

I grabbed a beer from my fridge and told myself that I needed to restock it, then popped a movie into the DVD player and settled in front of my TV. If Ferris Bueller couldn't make me feel at least a little better, then nothing would.


"You broke up with him?!" screeched Stacey as soon as I answered my phone the next day.

"Not exactly," I replied, not surprised in the least by her abruptness, "We're technically on a break."

"But, but, but, you two are so good together!"

"Weren't you the one who said he was turning back into a douche?" I asked, a little frustrated at her flip-flopping opinion, "Why are you so surprised?"

"Well yeah, I said that, but I didn't think you'd go so far as to break up with him."

I sighed, "We didn't break up! And anyway, it's done now. I can't really change that."

I really didn't feel like talking to Stacey about my decision since I was still having second thoughts about it, and it was new for me to feel any sort of regret about a relationship. In the past I'd always expected the end. My longest relationship had only lasted about five months, but it had gone sour long before we'd officially broken it off.

But what I had with Raphael… Well, Stacey didn't need to tell me twice that it had been something good. Sure, he'd been a little controlling in last couple days and really distant since spring break, but I knew that Raphael was really a caring and understanding guy. Just his reaction to my dad told me that, not to mention the fact that he practically mentored Alex.

"Hello? Erik? Did you hang up on me?"

"Oh, sorry, Stace," I answered, "I'm not even sure it's what I really want yet so I guess I just don't want to talk about it."

She let out her own sigh, "I understand Erik, but don't you fret. How about I come over and we'll have a good bitchfest about it?"

I smiled a little at that. I could always count on Stacey to be there for me, even if she didn't always agree with my life decisions.

"Sure, I'd really like that."

Stacey was at my place within the hour, arms full of cases of beer and old movies.

"How do you know me so well?" I asked and almost hugged her as she stood in the doorway.

"How long have we been friends, Erik?" she asked rhetorically and moved to put the beer on my kitchen counter, "Of course I'd know what your break up remedy is. Mine is something normal like chocolate, but you know, to each their own."

I rolled my eyes at her and looked through the movies she'd brought. "Trust me Stacey," I said, "nothing chases away the heartache better than drinking a beer while watching Cary Grant and Gregory Peck smolder at you on screen."

She shrugged her shoulders. "Whatever you say, Erik."

We watched 'Roman Holiday' first because we were both in the mood for a romantic comedy, but by the end of it we were feeling really down about love.

"They were destined for each other!" Stacey commented once the credits began, "Why would they end it like that?"

Unlike her, I had seen the movie several times before so I had known what would become of Ann and Joe. "Because," I replied, "sometimes things just don't work out."

Stacey and I looked at each other and sighed.

"I don't know what to tell you, Erik," she said, "I know you had your reasons for taking a break with him, but you've pretty much just put your relationship in limbo."

"I know. It sucks," I answered and took a long pull of my beer.

"Well I think the two of you need to just talk it out."

"I tried the talking thing and this is where it got me."

"Maybe now he'll listen," she suggested, "You know, now that everything's out in the open."

I looked past her to a watercolor painting that my sister had given me. It was of a magnificent wolf overlooking a forest. As I observed it more closely, I saw that the colors had run and blended into one another so well that I could hardly tell where the blues ended and the greens started. I felt as though my relationship with Raphael was in the same sort of confusion. There were these complicated areas that we couldn't seem to make any sense of, but overall I loved our relationship.

"Maybe," I said noncommittally, hoping she was right.


That week I told myself to avoid Luke during my post productions class, but that turned out to require no effort on my part. I could see him sending fleeting glances in my direction, but nothing came from them. He didn't stare for too long or approach me before or after class.

Once, during class on Wednesday, I decided to meet his gaze, but his eyes quickly widened and turned away. He didn't look at me again for the rest of the class.

I supposed that he had never really been seriously rejected before so he couldn't really understand it. Sure, he was attractive and he had a certain charm to him which could make any guy's knees weak, but it just didn't work on me. I knew his game, had known it since the first time we'd met, and I just wasn't interested in the kind of relationship he was offering. Unfortunately, it seemed that he also wasn't interested in the friendship relationship that I was offering to him.

After class on Friday, Dr. Daly called me over before I could exit the lecture room.

"I just wanted to talk to you a little about your project," he said and leaned against the side of the podium.

"Oh, what about it, Dr. D?"

"I looked at it last night and I think it's some really good work. You really managed to capture the importance of relationships – both good and bad. I enjoyed it a lot."

I almost couldn't believe the words that he was saying. "Wow…" I replied, "That's great Dr. Daly, I really appreciate you saying that."

He smiled at me and moved back to the assortment of papers on the stand. "Maybe a little editing might be in order, but I really think you should enter it into the film department's film festival next month. The winner gets a scholarship from the department and there are prizes for second and third place winners too. I think you have a good shot."

Now I definitely couldn't believe it. The film festival put on by the department each year showcased work from the best of the best film students. It was a big deal to us film majors.

"The film festival? That's huge. I… I never considered submitting my work."

His smile widened and he gathered his stuff to leave. "Well you should," he said and we walked out into the hallway, "You're on to something with this one, Erik. Don't doubt your talent."

"Thanks Dr. D," I replied, grinning from ear to ear.

"The deadline's three weeks from today, after Easter break," he said with a wave as we parted ways, "Oh, and make sure you get permission from your subject."

My hand froze mid wave. Permission from the subject…? As in, I had to go speak to Raphael, not just about the project that I pretty much threw at him when we last saw each other, but I also had to get him to agree to let me showcase it in front of the entire film department?

How the hell was I going to do that? How could I go see Raphael and not throw myself at him?

I thought of the way his eyes had widened when I yelled at him and the slack-jawed surprise I'd seen written all over his face. It had been so different from the cool and confident Raphael that had taken me human bowling, and the sweet and romantic guy who had empathized with me about my father. And yet it had been just as endearing.

I knew he was confused, but he was trying to fight through it, and I really admired him for it, even if it meant that he would make me angry sometimes. If I saw Raphael now I couldn't be sure if I would yell at him some more or confess that it seemed like I was really starting to fall for him.

I was… falling for him. My own eyes widened at the thought.

I was falling in love with Raphael Van Rossum.


I needed to think.

My revelation was freaking me out. I was suddenly thrilled and terrified at the same time. I had never been in love before, not really. I'd never felt half as excited to see my previous boyfriends as I felt when I saw Raphael. But how twisted was my life that the one person I wanted to share this unfamiliar feeling with was the same guy I had just decided to take a break from?

I practically sprinted out of the film building into a serious downpour and headed toward the parking garage. I did all my best thinking at home, so I decided on the spur of the moment that I would drive home for the weekend or at least the evening. It would be nice to get some advice from my mom as well. It was just an all-round good idea.

As I crossed in front of the entrance to the parking garage, I glanced at the car that had motioned for me to cross and froze, not caring that I was getting soaked by the heavy rain. It was Raphael. Speak of the fucking devil.

His deer-in-headlights expression probably mirrored mine and it took us both a moment to recover, but while it seemed as though he was about to get out of the car, I didn't stick around to see. I couldn't face him. Not now. Not before I had time to sort through what I felt. I knew I was being selfish and childish, but I picked up my pace and bolted up the rain-slicked staircase, slipping every now and then, rather than waiting for the elevator. I faintly heard him call my name, but I continued to my car. I would apologize for this later.


My heart had been racing the whole way home. The stormy weather made the driving difficult, and it didn't help that my phone had rung almost non-stop for the first half hour.

I felt really bad about literally running away from Raphael, because I was never one to avoid a problem, but I felt like I had something bigger to deal with.

When I had gotten home, my mom was surprised to say the least. Despite the lack of notice, however, she welcomed me in the same way that she always did; with a slice of her homemade pound cake and a cold beer.

"I'm sorry to just drop in on you like this," I said as I dug my fork into the cake. My mom made some of the best cake I had ever tasted. "I know dad has to have a routine."

She smiled wistfully at me, the same sad smile that I had always wanted to replace with true happiness ever since dad had been diagnosed.

"Nonsense, Erik," she said, "this is your home, you're always welcome to come back anytime."

I was suddenly struck by how much I appreciated that.

"I think I have a problem, mom," I said after shoveling another forkful of cake into my mouth.

"Oh?" she asked, "Is it about school?"

"No."

"Then it's about a boy," she said with a knowing twinkle in her eye.

My mom and I had the kind of relationship where I could tell her anything, but I was suddenly feeling bashful. In an effort to stall, I circled my hand around the beer, but didn't lift it to my mouth. "I think," I began slowly, "that I might be in love, or at least close to it, and I don't know what to do."

She smiled at me again. "What's there to do, Erik?"

"I don't know," I said, "I don't think I want to stop it from happening, but we're having some problems right now."

"Well, that does complicate things a little," she said with a wise nod, "but you have to decide what is more important to you, this person, or the problems that are popping up. Love takes work, Erik, but that's what makes it worth it."

I stared at her as I thought over her advice. Which was more important? Without hesitation I knew that Raphael was more important. I wanted to be with him, and I wanted to be there for him as he worked through his problems. It was a no-brainer when she put it like that.

Before I could reply to her however, my phone began to ring again.

I apologized quickly to my mom and pulled it out of my pocket to read the caller ID, but it was an unidentified number.

Frowning slightly, I answered, "Hello?"

"Hey Erik, this is Bryan," the voice said, sounding harried.

"Oh, hey Bryan," I replied, sure that my confusion was evident in my voice.

"I uh, got your number from Stacey because I felt like you should hear this from me. Um, Raphael got into a car accident."

My mind went blank. "He what?" I asked disbelievingly, "A car accident?"

"Yeah, he was out driving after his classes, and you know how it was storming today, well apparently he lost control of his car coming around that crazy blind corner on the way to the park. The car was totaled, but there were people driving by who managed to pull him out and call an ambulance."

What Bryan was saying was barely registering in my brain.

"How is he? Are you at the hospital?"

"Yeah I just got here but they won't tell me anything yet."

"Bryan, I'm at home right now, but I'll be there within two hours, okay?"

I hung up the phone and stared solemnly at my mom. I could feel the sting of tears at the back of my eyes.

"It's the boy that you love right?" she asked and pressed a cool hand to my cheek, "Promise me that you'll tell him how you feel."

I nodded and moved to kiss her cheek before leaving. With a heavy heart, I started the drive back.

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A/N: Whew… quite a heavy chapter. And sorry it took so long but Christmas and New Year's is always a busy time at my house. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season!

What did you guys think of this chapter? Am I too mean to these characters? Let me know your thoughts in a review! And as always thanks for reading and reviewing! You guys are awesome!