cupcake smash

they became best friends when she smashed a cupcake in his face and he smashed one in hers.

.

.

.

. first meetings .

It should've been a simple ordeal, introducing two toddlers to each other for the first time. But with Dex and Emma, it should've been obvious to both of their mothers that toddler simplicity would not apply to either of their children.

As soon as Emma's bright, innocent, baby blue eyes caught sight of the poor, unsuspecting two year old innocently playing with his blocks in the corner of the living room, she was immediately baby-babbling words only she could understand on her way over to him as her little legs toddled to his side with all she had, a determined crease set between her brows.

While Emma was embarking on her journey to the other side of the room, both mothers were gossiping on the couch, careful to keep an eye on their interacting babies as they continued to exchange the latest news in their neighborhood.

"So did you hear about Laura Fairbanks and her cheating donkey of a husband?"

Obviously both were careful to censor their words just in case the intuitive Emma decided she was going to start talking as of this very pivotal moment in her life—while she was meeting another baby.

"No I haven't!" Dex's mother exclaimed, momentarily mortified at the thought, but still secretly pleased that it wasn't her own husband who was gallivanting with other women behind her back. "Spill."

And their moms' distraction at the plight of other women that were not them was all it took for innocent Emma to plunk down next to Dex, pointing at his block demandingly as she made deliberate eye contact with her new friend.

His gorgeous green eyes widened with astonishment, surprised at the gall of this intruder and her sudden need to have his favorite orange block in her possession.

Being three months older than her—exactly, to the dot—he sniffed and proceeded to say one of the words he'd recently learned how to say. "No."

Without warning, Emma proceeded to screech with indignation—the one thing she was very good at doing—grabbing the block he was holding in the time it took for him to screw up his eyes at the displeasing sound; by the time he had recovered, she'd quickly hopped up by grabbing onto the coffee table and then toddling away, victorious, clutching the block like a prize.

"Momma!" Dex screamed, wailing loudly at this injustice that had just been done to him.

Both mothers jumped at the sound of his frustrated scream, their heads turning to look at the little boy who was sitting on the floor, tears streaming down his face as he stared at his empty hands.

His mom hopped to her feet, making her way over to soothe him before he was completely inconsolable.

"What's the matter, baby?"

Since he couldn't really say anything else except momma and no, he just pointed in Emma's general direction, which was admittedly difficult to pinpoint even for her own mother, eyes too wet to see clearly.

"What did Emma do?"

He gestured to his fallen block tower, destroyed while Emma had been kicking and grunting to stand up with the help of the coffee table in order to properly claim her prize.

"She tore down your blocks?"

He shook his head, dropped to his knees, took a green block from the jumbled mess and pantomimed this elaborate scenario where he played two people at once. His mother was completely baffled.

"She threw your block at you?" With another shake of his head, she sighed.

"Uhm… well, uh. She… well, she obviously tore down your tower but you don't seem too sad about that." Then she noticed the lack of orange in the pile of blocks and connected the pieces almost immediately.

"She took your block?"

He nodded, triumphant, very glad that his mother was a genius.

While this conversation was taking place, Emma's mother was on a mission of her own—to catch her daughter.

But the little girl was desperately trying to evade her—and was somehow accomplishing that rather difficult feat, considering her mother was several feet taller than her and therefore had longer legs.

Finally she tripped over her own two feet in the hallway, immediately busting out the waterworks as her mom bent and picked her up.

"Young lady, stop crying right this instant! You need to apologize to poor Dex. And give him his block back."

Emma hung her head, disturbingly limp as she was plopped onto the carpet next to Dex, the coveted orange block cradled to her chest.

It took a while, but finally Emma looked up, eyes still as innocent as ever. She reluctantly met Dex's emerald green eyes and uttered her first word, "Shorry."

Then, with a little dignified sigh, she thrust out her hand, the block in its place between her little fingers.

Dex's eyes traveled to the block, wary, as he reached out to take it from her.

Simultaneous sighs of relief came from both of their mothers—who were hovering behind their children—as Emma ultimately dropped the block into his hand and sealed their truce.

Then she pushed him, no warning whatsoever.

"Momma!"

.

.

.

. childhood friendships .

Three years later, Emma and Dex were five and nine months old and almost-six years old respectively, both obviously more mature than their two year old counterparts and not as prone to quarrels over orange blocks.

But they were enrolled in pre-school, and in pre-school, anything can happen.

It was a lovely spring morning and it just so happened to be Dex's Friday-before-his-actual-birthday party and his mother had brought chocolate cupcakes, homemade and fresh out of the oven.

Needless to say, the kids were going wild; especially little Emma who hadn't grown out of her mischievous streak, and instead was making it her personal mission in life to brighten everyone's day.

So when she was the last one to get her cupcake—the icky one nobody wanted—her face scrunched up and she let loose her most heartbreaking wail yet.

Dex's mother sighed, used to this kind of behavior by now. She didn't even blink an eye. Trying to ignore the little girl's screams, Dex's mom took over for the poor preschool teacher, the one who had rushed off to the teacher's lounge to grab some coffee as soon as Dex's mom had walked in bearing trays of cupcakes for the kids, by making sure each toddler was settled around the carpeted room with their cupcakes and boxes of fruit juice.

All were accounted for except Emma, who was finally realizing that nobody was going to offer her their own cupcakes as a peace offering.

As this realization began to settle in, Emma's eyes narrowed into tiny little slits, determination making her toddler body stiffen as if she was readying herself for battle.

Instead of crying, she let loose one of her famous battle cries—a shriek of toddler fury that made Dex's mother's head turn at breakneck speed. Oh no.

Since she was across the room and Emma was on the other side, making headway towards her ultimate destination—Dex—his mother was helpless to save him as Emma charged, chocolate cupcake brandished in front of her like a weapon.

The other kids stepped back almost comically fast, tripping over themselves in their haste to get away from the raging little girl.

"I thought we were best friends!" Emma cried, finally reaching her destination, right before she smashed her cupcake into Dex's face.

He stood there, stock-still, bright green eyes wide and surprised. Then he turned to look at her, green meeting blue.

"We are," he said simply, before smashing his own almost-finished cupcake into her face as well.

And then the two of them were wrestling on the floor, shrieks and grunts erupting through the tense pre-school air, as Dex's mother embarked on her own rampage as well, albeit without a cupcake weapon clearing her path.

When she reached them, she grabbed her son by the seat of his pants, simultaneously pulling Emma out of the way as well. She dragged the two of them over to their seats, making sure they were actually seated before she looked both of them in the eyes—gorgeous eyes that couldn't quite meet her own.

"Look, you two. Fighting won't solve everything. And shoving cupcakes into each other's faces won't work either."

"But, Mom—"

"Don't 'But, Mom' me, young man. You're in tremendous trouble for shoving that cupcake into Emma's face."

"She started it!"

"I know,"—she turned to look at Emma, who was obviously trying not to cry; she loved making mischief but she hated getting in trouble for it—"and that's why I'll be telling your mom about what happened today when I drop you off from school, okay?"

She'd expected this, so she just nodded. "Okay."

"Good. Now, let's see what we can occupy you two with until you're free to go home."

Emma could think of several things to occupy her time, but she didn't think Dex's mommy would enjoy them very much.

"Uhm, Mrs. Dex's Mommy?"

Dex's mother could practically feel her heart melting in her chest. Parenting was hard, yes, but those big blue eyes were a lovely reward.

"Yes, sweetie?"

"Could I have another cupcake?"

"Promise you won't shove it into Dex's face again?"

Solemnly, Emma looked at the ground, and then back up at Dex's mom. "Pinky promise." And then she stuck out the pinky and Dex's mom stuck out hers and the pact was complete.

"I probably have extras in my bag, just in case you were going to cause some trouble." She laughed. "Let me check."

"Why'd you smash that cupcake in my face?" Dex asked, turning to face her once his mom was gone.

"Because." Emma replied simply.

"Because what?"

"Because you're my best friend."

"We have a weird friendship."

"Obviously."

Dex stood up all of a sudden and walked over to his mom, pulling lightly on her jeans.

"Yes, honey?"

"Can we make cupcakes at home?"

"I—but I just made cupcakes."

"Yeah, I know, but Emma got the icky one. You know, the one that's always squished and stuff. I feel bad. So maybe we should let her make her own cupcakes."

Dex's mom knew this was going to end in a disaster—her normally spotless kitchen turned into a cupcake wasteland—but one look into those green eyes, so like his father's, and she was helpless.

"I'll ask her mom before we leave, but if she says yes, of course we can."

"Great! Thanks, Momma. I'll go tell Emma."

As he turned and started walking back to his supposed best friend, Dex's mom leaned back on the desk behind her, simply watching as he whispered the news into her ear, eliciting a smile from the little girl as she started to bounce up and down.

"CAN IT BE RED VELVET?!" Emma exploded.

What have I done.

. xox .

After making a quick stop at the grocery store for a package of red velvet cake mix and lollipops, Dex's mom pulled into her driveway, opened her door, and unbuckled both children from their car seats.

Emma was bouncing so hard it was pretty difficult to unbuckle her, but once she was free, the little girl shot out of the car, running into the open garage as fast as her legs could carry her.

While Emma was vanishing into the house, Dex looked at his mom, bewilderment still in those green eyes of his. "Momma, why is she so hyper?"

His mom smiled at him, making him laugh as she tickled him in the stomach on her mission to get him unbuckled. "Honey, that's just how she is. You're going to have to accept it if you two really are best friends."

"I have accepted it, Momma. But sometimes she's just really really scary."

"I know what you mean, sweetheart, I know what you mean."

And as she helped Dex hop out of the car, she couldn't help but think that her son was going to be in for a wild ride with this one.

Once she'd walked into her house with Dex at her heels, the grocery bags clutched to his chest—he'd insisted on helping—she was surprised to find Emma sitting calmly on the floor of the living room where she'd first met Dex.

"Oh, hello," the little girl chirped as soon as she saw them. "I'm learning how to be patient."

"I—well, that's good. But c'mere for a second, help me get the ingredients ready."

Without needing to be told twice, Emma got to her feet and skipped on her way over to the kitchen.

As Dex's mom recited the needed ingredients off of the back of the box, Dex watched with widened eyes as Emma shot through the kitchen, opening the pantry doors and peering into the depths before screeching, "DEX'S MOMMY IS IT IN HEEEERE?"

It took a while before they were ready to actually begin, but once all the ingredients were gathered up and both children were settled into the chairs placed around the island, Dex's mom finally got the mixer going, Dex and Emma watching with complete concentration just to make sure their cupcakes were in good hands.

Almost an hour later, the timer went off, eliciting a reaction from the little girl watching cartoons on the television in the living room while Dex was concentrating on crashing his toy cars.

"THEY'RE DONE!" she squealed, sliding off the sofa with practiced ease, and then rushing off to the oven to peer into the window, oven lights turned on as she ooh-ed and ahh-ed with suppressed toddler excitement.

Dex's mom lightly took her tiny shoulders and pushed her back, just in case she had the bright idea to take the cupcakes out herself.

But once the cupcakes were on the counter, cooling off before the frosting finished them off, Emma was in her seat again, keeping an eye on the cupcakes she so desperately wanted to eat.

"DEX'S MOMMY!" she screamed twenty minutes later, "THE CUPPYCAKES ARE DONE! FROSTING TIME!"

"I'm coming, I'm coming," Dex's mom laughed, grabbing the bag of frosting on her way over, "hold your horses!"

Dex giggled, following his mom at a much slower pace. "Can I try, Mommy? Can I put the frosting on one of them?"

"Of course! And Emma can try too." She smiled at the little girl who was literally vibrating in her seat. "Here, sweetie, let me show you."

As Dex focused on the task at hand, tongue poking out and everything, and with Emma observing as close as she could without getting hair into the cupcakes, Dex's mom tried not to laugh too hard.

Both kids were so focused, the only thing that could've possibly broken that focus was if she went out and brought a puppy back to play with the two of them.

While Dex put the finishing touches on his designated cupcake, excessive amounts of frosting nearly falling off of the top, Emma was making excited little noises that practically screamed It's my tuuuuuuurn!

Without even batting an eye, Dex calmly handed her the frosting bag, looking up at his mother for affirmation at his future career of being a professional cupcake froster. "It looks lovely, Dex."

"Thanks, Mommy," he grinned, hugging her arm quickly before turning around to watch Emma do her thing.

Tongue poking out as well, Emma was completely concentrated, blue eyes crossing as she focused on making sure her frosting skills were perfect.

Dex's mom tried not to intervene as the frosting tapered at the top, the amount she was using surpassing even Dex's already excessive frosting attempt.

"I'M DONE!" Emma cried, gleefully licking the frosting that had somehow made its way onto her fingers.

"And now it's my turn!" Dex's mom interjected, taking the half-empty frosting bag from Emma's little fingers.

Making quick work of the frosting, she was finished in the time it took for Emma to clean her fingers.

Dex was merely sitting in his seat, waiting patiently for the permission from his mom that would let him eat his cupcake.

"You want to eat them now?"

"YES PLEASE."

"Well then go ahead. I'll just go get you two a glass of milk."

"Hey Dex?" Emma whispered conspiratorially behind her hands, cupcake in her clutches.

"Mmph?"

"I love your mommy."

Dex laughed, baffled at this girl's no-holds-barred approach to their friendship. "I love her too," he replied, just as his mom set two glasses of milk in front of them.

"Do you like 'em?"

Emma nodded emphatically, eyes bright with happiness. She'd completely forgotten the events of earlier that day, when she'd shoved that chocolate cupcake into Dex's face—even though both of them still had traces of cupcake splattered on their shirts.

"I LOVE THEM. THANK YOU MRS. DEX'S MOMMY."

"No problem, sweetheart. But I think you should probably go home now. Your momma probably misses you."

"I—yes, I should. I'm sleepy." As if she had to prove this, Emma yawned, arms raised high above her head.

"Do you wanna take some home?"

"YES PLEASE."

Dex's mom placed a few of the cupcakes into a plastic container, making sure it was tightly sealed before handing it to the little girl.

"Come on, let's get into the car." With Dex walking at a much slower pace behind her, Emma shot off again—there goes her 'tired'—hopping into the car and buckling herself in right when Dex had opened his door.

Making sure both children were safe and buckled in, Dex's mom arrived at Emma's house in just a few minutes, considering the two-story home was only two blocks away from hers. They probably could've walked but she had to go to the grocery store for dinner ingredients afterwards anyway.

Emma knocked with unabashed excitement as she waited for her mom to answer the door.

"HI MOMMA. I'M HOME."

"Hi, sweetie!" Emma's mother replied, barely getting a glimpse of her daughter before the little girl was in the kitchen, opening the cupcake container as fast as possible.

"LOOK MOMMA!" A cupcake was suddenly shoved in her face, bright blue eyes and wide, gap-toothed smile following. "I HELPED MAKE THESE."

"Oh, good job!" She diverted the question to her best friend, patiently waiting in the doorway of her home. "How was she?"

"Well… she was good once she was making the cupcakes at my place, but at pre-school she shoved a cupcake into Dex's face because it was the icky one."

A slender hand was slammed into a pretty face as Emma's mom sighed. "That's Emma for you. Is Dex okay, though?"

"Of course he is. He just slapped his almost-finished cupcake into her face as payback. But they're best friends. It's what they do."

Both moms laughed. "Well, I might as well eat it before she shoves it into my mouth instead." Turning her attention back to her daughter, Emma's mom took the cupcake from her daughter's hand and ate it, eyes closing almost immediately.

"It's delicious, Em! How'd you know red velvet was my favorite?"

"Because you're my mommy, that's why. And you talk loud when you're with daddy."

"I never thought she actually listened to us," Emma's mom whispered into Dex's mom's ear.

"I didn't think she did either. This child. Surprising everyone when we least expect it."

Emma wasn't even paying attention. She was in the middle of dragging Dex to her room, intent on showing him something her daddy had brought for her once he came home from work last night.

"Do you see this?" she grinned. "Daddy bought me a dollhouse."

"I see it. But… but what do you do with it?" He tilted his head innocently to the side, truly baffled.

"You play with it!"

"…but it's a house."

"No, silly, you play with the dolls inside the house!"

"There are dolls inside the house?"

"Uh, yes? You gotta open up the house first, duh."

"It's not like I know how dollhouses work," Dex pointed out. "I'm a boy."

"I can teach you!" Emma laughed, pulling him even closer by the hand.

"But—but dollhouses are for girls!"

"I still think it's fun," insisted the little girl, opening the dollhouse. "See, you can move the tiny furniture around and then there are dolls inside too, so you can play house with 'em."

"I think it's stupid. Toy cars are so much more fun to play with. You can crash 'em!"

"Yeah, well, you can crash the furniture too, if you wanted. But it's from my daddy, so I don't want to break anything."

"Toy cars are still better."

"That's what you think."

Ema's blue eyes were narrowed now, annoyed at this boy for having the guts to insult her daddy's gift for her.

"You should probably leave before I throw furniture at you."

.

.

.

. elementary shenanigans .

It was the time of cooties and terribly concealed crushes—elementary school—and Emma and Dex were not immune to the crazy going around their 5th grade class.

They were eleven and eleven-and-a-half respectively, growing up faster than their mothers were comfortable with, but the two of them hardly even noticed it—boys and girls were in the middle of being placed into different categories—separated into two distinct groups—and Emma wasn't very happy with that concept. Dex didn't even know it existed until she brought it up.

Both kids were in Dex's bedroom, plastered with posters of comic book characters and movies he'd loved, lying on his bed as they stared up at the ceiling.

"Do you think we'll be best friends forever, Dex?"

"Well, you're so stubborn. I have no doubt about it, Em."

She laughed, pushing him with her shoulder and almost causing him to fall off his own bed.

"WHOA THERE, EMMA I'M GONNA DIE."

"Shut up. No you're not. It's only carpet."

"Uh, nuh uh. It's lava."

"Oh my goodness you are such a dork, Dex."

"You're best friends with a dork, get over it."

"But—seriously—do people ever tease you for having a girl for a best friend?"

"Well…" he scrunched up his eyebrows, deep in thought. "At first, yes, but we've been going to school with these people for ages. They know we've been friends since we were in diapers. And we still hang out with different friends during recess anyway, so maybe with them it's not that big of a deal."

"But the other people at school—the ones that just like, transferred in from another city or something. Don't they ever tease you?"

"I don't really talk to the transfers, Em, so no, they don't tease me. And besides, you're way friendlier than I am. Of course you'd be the one to talk to them. And if they teased you, you wouldn't care at all… would you?"

"No, I really don't care at all. You're my best friend and that's that. But it's still weird when people give us looks for sitting together at lunch. I mean, you're right. We have different friends, but we still go home together since our moms are so close."

"Exactly. Most people know about our moms." He laughed, looking over at her face. "Why're you so worried about this?"

Emma sat up, annoyance suddenly clear on her face.

With Dex, she didn't bother hiding her expressions.

"Excuse me?"

But then she seemed to realize just how exactly these questions were being perceived by Dex, and she backtracked. "Well, I mean… boys think I'm weird because I have a boy as a best friend. So when they're chasing my friends around, they just pass me by like I'm not even there. And it kinda sucks. Plus I'm not stupid. I know what 'the chase' means! Maybe I should pay some random kid to chase me around."

"Want me to chase you around?" Dex grinned, on the verge of laughter, obviously joking.

She didn't even hesitate—she slapped him on the arm. "You're not funny, butthead. That'll get all the people teasing us, no doubt."

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. But look, we're better off as islands in a world of cooties. That way we don't get ourselves hurt."

"Maybe we need to get hurt in order for us to get stronger," Emma pointed out.

"But not when we're in the fifth grade. We're going to get hurt a lot when we're older. My mom told me so."

"My mom told me that too, but wouldn't you be more prepared if you got hurt earlier on?"

"I think you'd be more careful once we're older, Em. And a lot less optimistic. I don't want that to happen to you."

"But—I—I guess you're right. Your mom's smart."

"So is yours." He smiled at her quickly before sitting up and extending a hand to her. "Want some cookies?"

A glimpse of her five-year-old self blossomed on Emma's face as she grinned. "UH HECK YES."

. xox .

"Did you hear?"

Emma looked at her best (girl) friend, Kenzie Walsh, in undisguised surprise as the fiery redhead flitted into her vision. "Hear what?"

"Well, I heard that Declan Logan totally has a crush on you! I heard from Mara who heard from Rylie who heard from Jenna who heard Declan talking about you while he was on his way to the lunch line."

"Declan Logan? Isn't he like, one of those class clowns?"

"The biggest one at this school. Do you think he's cute?"

"I—what does he look like again?"

Kenzie heaved an exasperated sigh at her friend's cluelessness. "He has dark hair, grey eyes, and he's pretty tall for a sixth grader. Oh my God, he's a sixth grader."

"So? It's only one year older than we are."

"It's one year! That's a huge age gap, Em."

"It's a year…"

"Oh shut up and go talk to him. He's coming this way!" Kenzie made a bolt for their other friends patiently waiting by the old oak tree that had been their lunch spot ever since the four girls became friends in first grade.

Emma was completely flabbergasted as she glared silently at her friend for leaving her with this… dude.

"Uh hi," he said, carrying a tray that was currently holding a carton of chocolate milk, a sandwich, and a kiwi that looked strangely gross.

Emma being Emma simply grinned brightly at the intruder, inherently friendly to her core. "Hi!"

"Is anyone sitting here?" Declan gestured vaguely to the part of the brick wall that she wasn't sitting on, smiling sheepishly.

"Nope," she replied, "it's all free." Emma was actually vaguely intrigued by this supposed class clown with a shy streak.

"Thanks. But I was wondering—are you hungry?"

"I'm always hungry."

Declan laughed almost immediately, a happy laugh that had Emma surprisingly pleased with herself.

"Want some of my sandwich? I'd offer you the kiwis, but they're kinda disgusting."

"What kind of sandwich is it?"

"PB and J. Are you allergic to peanuts?"

"Nope, and—and I'd love a piece." She could practically feel her friends' eyes on this whole exchange, the four of them desperately trying to read her lips, hanging on every word as they took turns keeping watch and most likely giving each other a play-by-play of every move.

He obliged, giving her half as he bit off some of his piece. "Thanks, Declan." She smiled again.

"No problem—wait, you know my name?"

"I—yeah I do. It's kinda hard not to with all the rumors swirling around the school."

The guy actually seemed genuinely curious as he peered into her face. "What rumors?"

"Well." She blushed, transferring her gaze to the floor. "I heard from a friend that you had a crush on me."

He was quiet for a while, and Emma was actually terrified of looking at his face. She was only a fifth grader—why was she being exposed to this world of crushes and not-cooties so early? This was crazy. She never should've had that conversation with Dex. It must've triggered something in the spectrum of fate that caused this Declan character to catch wind of it and ultimately end up having a totally unexplainable crush on her. She hadn't even talked to the guy, for crying out loud.

Desperately, she tried to stay silent. To be patient, like she had tried to learn when she was five and nine months old and she'd shoved that cupcake into Dex's face but Dex's mom had been nice enough to let her bake red velvet—her mother's favorite—and therefore she'd somehow evaded punishment, because of the red velvet.

But she couldn't help it. "So, do you? Or was it just a rumor?"

Finally—finally —he answered, meeting her eyes with his very own gray as he said, "It wasn't a rumor."

Emma thought meeting her eyes while he was confessing something that was obviously supposed to be kept private was a very brave thing to do, so she smiled again. "That's good."

"I would hope so."

Never one to let awkward silences bother her, she bit off another piece of the sandwich he had given her, trying to give him space to figure out what he was going to say next. After all, she had been the one to spur on that particular conversation and now it was his turn.

"Do you have a dog?" he finally asked.

She took her time, swallowing and taking a gulp of his chocolate milk—honestly he liked her; that had to mean he wouldn't mind sharing his milk with her—before she answered.

"Not yet, but I've been begging for years, so my dad will succumb eventually. And once he succumbs, he'll find a way to persuade my mom. And then I'll have a dog. Do you have one?"

"I have two, actually."

"Oh my God, that would take me years to accomplish. You see, my mom's really obsessive about having a clean house and dogs are notoriously messy creatures so. It'll take a while for her to see the light. But I love dogs—I think when I was three, I ran after one and tackled it to the ground and then I tried to take it home just because I liked how fluffy it was. My mom was mortified. She kept apologizing. Well, that's what she told me. If I was my mom, I woulda just grabbed me and run away."

Declan was in stitches by the time she was done with her story. And then Emma was just incredibly pleased with herself, because making a boy laugh—a boy that wasn't Dex—was an incredible feat unto itself.

She could practically imagine her friends trying to get as close as possible, ninja-like, before they tripped on something—or each other—and their cover was blown.

She tried not to laugh herself.

. xox .

When she told Dex about Declan later that day, he'd smiled, teasingly bumping her shoulder with his. "See, Em. You're not completely unchase-able."

"Hey, the dude didn't even bother chasing me. He sat down and offered me food. I figured that was a good enough reason to start a conversation with him. Plus I didn't feel like running today."

"But it's elementary school. Is this thing you two have even considered a relationship?"

"I'll ask him tomorrow."

And she did. After school, she relayed the information to Dex, who patiently listened to her every word.

"He said it was. But I'm not sure what sixth grader standards are. So… I might as well go with it."

"Good luck, Em."

"Thanks."

Declan and Emma lasted two weeks.

And frankly, she just missed the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. And his two dogs.

.

.

.

. the teenage years .

Freshman year was the year that changed it all. Dex got cute and Emma became awkward in terms of looks, but certainly not in terms of personality.

Kenzie was still her best (girl) friend and Dex had his own group. It was almost inevitable that they'd start to stray from each other.

Middle school was no big deal. They spent hours after school alternating between each other's houses, helping each other with homework and studying for tests together—but usually getting distracted by something on the television or something their moms would place on the island for them to snack on.

But the beginning of freshman year arrived and Emma realized Dex had changed. She hadn't seen him at all during the summer since her family had gone on vacation to the East Coast to visit relatives and his had backpacked through Europe.

Gone were the pants settled high on his waist—now he had pants sagging ever-so-slightly, showing off how much he had grown over the summer. Gone were the graphic t-shirts of comic book characters he'd loved so much—now he was wearing button-down shirts that flattered his lean muscles, muscle Emma had never even known he had. And gone were the easy smiles he'd sent her way—he didn't even acknowledge her in the halls anymore.

But the girls were going wild, of course. Even Kenzie was prone to comment on Dex's outfit choices on days where he looked particularly dashing for a mere freshman.

Emma didn't know how to talk to him anymore and his life suddenly got a whole lot busier as he was invited to more and more parties.

Gone was the quiet little boy that had been her best friend—the quiet confidante standing confidently by her side. Now he was popular and unattainable, on an island she had no business being on.

She was friendly, yes, but as she developed curves that didn't quite accentuate any of her features yet—especially a face plagued with stubborn acne no matter how many times she washed and scrubbed at it—Emma realized Dex, along with other people except her exclusive group of four girl friends, didn't particularly care about being her friend anymore.

He had more now—more than he had ever expected had he still been that fifth grader with the carefulness his crazy best friend had never had the desire to possess.

Emma didn't know whether she wanted to punch him for forgetting about her on that trip all around Europe or if she wanted to go home and just sob at the loss of her best childhood friend.

. xox .

But somehow she'd survived freshman year… and sophomore year… and finally it was junior year.

Now this would be the year for Emma's turn to impress. Gone were the jeans that didn't quite fit; gone were the shirts that always covered everything except her arms; gone were the bouts of stubborn acne that had plagued her for ages; gone were the unsightly braces she'd had to wear for three years.

She'd finally grown into her body and frankly, she was determined to own it.

On the first day of school, she stormed through the doors, wearing a skirt that accentuated her legs, long and lean from jogging on a daily basis during the summer, a flowing lowcut tanktop that showed enough—but not everything, and flats that added the perfect pop of color to her outfit. Her brunette hair was loose and wavy, bangs pinned to the side so she could see everyone's reactions with no blockage at all.

Emma was pleased as she walked through the hallways and to her locker, meeting people's stares with a bright smile slightly reminiscent of a younger Emma, always excited and always on the move.

She'd matured over the years, less prone to spontaneous outbursts about food, and more prone to watching people and their emotions flitting across their faces before she reacted. But there was still that sense of little Emma simmering beneath the surface, eagerly waiting for the day she'd be allowed to play with the big boys.

Kenzie dashed up to her almost as soon as she reached her locker. "Emma! Wow! You look gorgeous!"

Emma's best friend was dressed in a summer dress that reached her mid-thigh, strappy heels complimenting her look as her wild red curls were left free to do whatever they wished.

"You look gorgeous too, Kenz! Oh my God, how was your summer? I can't believe we never even saw each other!"

"I know! How terrible is that!" Kenzie pouted. "Well, Greece was gorgeous and I didn't want to leave, but we had to. How was Hawaii?!"

"Hawaii was heavenly. I needed it after the hell that was sophomore year. You know, Dex and his bitch of a girlfriend. Along with those finals. Oh my God, Hawaii was perfect. Are they still together?"

"Last I heard they were. But you never know with first days. He could've been single for days and nobody would know. Did you meet any hot guys in Hawaii?"

"I beg to differ. It's Dex Davenport. Everyone knows what's going on with his life. Oh, and yes I did! His name was Cody. He was stunning, I could've eaten him for breakfast. But he lives in Florida. We took some pictures together though. Wanna see?"

Kenzie squealed. "Would I ever! Gimme gimme." She made grabby hands for Emma's phone, whining as Emma suddenly withheld it from her clutches. "What's the matter with—oh."

Dex had just walked in, looking as dashing as ever in jeans and a dark green button down shirt that complimented his eyes and Emma didn't really know why but something had changed in her over the summer and suddenly she just couldn't breathe.

"Shit."

"Em, what's the matter?"

"I need to get out of here. I mean, he won't see me of course—he never does—but I can see him and if Evalyn shows up out of nowhere I might actually punch something."

Kenzie understood immediately, lightly grabbing Emma's book bag strap as she dragged her best friend over to the line for schedules, far away from Dex's locker.

"Are you crushin' on Dex?"

"I—I guess I am. Damn, this sucks. He was my best friend. What the hell did I drink in Hawaii that changed my mind about him?"

"Probably Cody triggered something in you. Or you miss him. Or… Which reminds me! I need to see pictures of him. Right now. This line's long, give me your phone."

"Fine, Miss Bossy." Emma laughed, momentarily forgetting the Dex Dilemma as she handed over her phone and found herself squealing along with her best friend, swiping through pictures of Emma and a boy that looked strikingly similar to Dex except the eyes—dark brown compared to Dex's stunning green.

. xox .

Once they'd received their schedules—and proceeded to squeal again because they had three classes together—Emma and Kenzie caught up with their three other friends: Mara, Lauren, and Samantha, who were waiting by their adopted willow tree outside.

"Hey girlies!" Kenzie exclaimed, quickly rushing over and enveloping all three in a group hug.

Squeals and shrieks and exclamations of You look beautiful! Oh my God I love your hair! Oh my God where'd you get those shoes! filled the air around them.

"How were your summers?"

"Lovely."

"Wonderful!"

"I NEVER WANTED IT TO END."

They all laughed together. "And your first period classes? What are they? We need to figure this out!"

"I have Math."

"Physics."

"Spanish."

"English."

"Damn. None of us have the same first period."

And it continued like that until they figured out which classes they would be sharing.

It was a first day of school ritual, and it was expected.

What wasn't expected was Dex Davenport suddenly materializing by Emma's side, asking her if he could talk to her—in private.

"Oh shit," Kenzie said, point blank, obviously making sure Dex could hear.

Emma shot her a glare as she let Dex lead the way.

"What is this about?" she asked, as soon as they were a good distance away from her friends.

"I—well. Long time no talk, Em."

"No shit Sherlock. What is this about?" Crossing her arms as if she were getting ready to protect herself, Emma waited for him to reply, not even hiding the fact that she was getting annoyed. It was the first day of school—he hadn't bothered acknowledging her the past two first days of school; why now?

"I'm sorry we haven't talked in a while. It's just—I—it's just…"

"Spit it out, Dex."

"I miss you, Em."

Her mouth nearly dropped open—that was not what she had been expecting at all.

"You do?" Quickly she recovered from the shock and narrowed her eyes. "Why now? Why are you telling me this now?"

"You look gorgeous today."

"I—that's it? I just had to wear something like this to get you to acknowledge me again? Oh, that's rich. You are such a boy. Whatever happened to 'being best friends forever'? Empty promises. Those don't sit well with me."

"We were kids. Things change. People change, Em."

"I know that. I mean, look at you. You've changed quite a bit. And don't call me Em."

He spluttered. "Why can't I call you Em?"

"We're not exactly friends anymore."

"Don't say that—"

"Well it's true."

"Not like I wanted it to be. Look, you were right. People kept teasing me about having you as my best friend and, to be honest, I'm not as strong as you. I couldn't handle it. So when we came back and freshman year started, I just… I couldn't look at you without feeling resentment. The boys couldn't take me seriously because my best friend was a girl. I'm sorry."

Emma was desperately trying not to cry, but it was getting increasingly harder with every second she spent just standing next to him. "I'm sorry too, Dex."

If they'd both been little kids, she would've had no need to suppress her tears—younger Dex had let her cry all she wanted, but now that this was high school and the stakes were higher, she couldn't let him see just how much his abandonment had affected her.

So she turned around with no goodbye whatsoever and left him standing there, let her friends envelop her in their protective hugs as they escorted her to her first class, five minutes before the bell was supposed to ring.

. xox .

"Em! Someone's here to see you! Hi, sweetie, she'll be down in a second."

Her mom's voice floated through the house, prompting Emma to stand up and scream down the staircase, "WHO IS IT MOM?"

Fierce whispering came from downstairs and Emma was getting genuinely curious. Huffing a sigh, she padded down the stairs, dressed in pajama shorts and a tank top.

"Who is it—oh. It's you."

Dex was standing in her parents' foyer, a sight that didn't quite fit with her vision of a shorter, less fashionable Dex four years prior, asking if she wanted to study with him for an Algebra test.

He was still in the same clothes he'd worn to school, but his hair was messy, almost as if he'd just been running his hands through them, repeatedly, a habit she had really noticed last year around the time of winter finals—she knew it was his nervous habit, just like jiggling her leg was hers.

Her mom had wisely stepped out of the room, sensing the tension that exuded from her daughter and the boy she hadn't seen for a while. Of course she still saw Dex's mom—they were best friends—but whenever their conversations traveled to Dex, the excuse was usually made that he was at a friend's house.

Mothers saw everything—she'd seen the constant disappointment on her daughter's face as Emma greeted Dex's mom with the same flying hug she'd developed when she had been seven and eternally grateful for the stuffed dog that had become her lifeline—a gift from Dex's family, naturally, but as soon as she realized Dex wasn't around, once again, her expression would fall and it would break her mom's heart.

"What are you doing here?" Emma blurted.

He met her eyes with his, green eyes unnaturally piercing now that his confidence was boosted from two years of solid popularity. "I'm trying to say sorry, Emma. Our conversation wasn't over at school, so just listen to me for a sec, would you?"

Even though she hadn't talked to him in forever, Emma could still sense a hint of annoyance and stubborn determination underneath his tone.

She crossed her arms, finally nodding slowly when she realized he wasn't leaving. "I'm listening."

"Okay, well, this is really hard to talk about, even now, but… in Europe, the summer before freshman year, my dad went missing for a couple of days and my mom was going ballistic. She seriously thought we left him in Switzerland or something and she wanted to find him. But when she found him—she was flashing this picture of him she had in her phone at everyone she passed on the street, and someone finally recognized him—he was at this inn with another woman he'd met while my mom and I were looking for a place to eat the day before he disappeared. Needless to say, my mom was upset and I was upset and I had to punch something. But I couldn't punch anything until I got home because I didn't want Mom to know that I was angry—even though it was obvious that I was. I had to keep it together for her, you know? And if you're wondering where you fit into all of this, I couldn't tell you what had happened—"

"Why not?"

"I'm getting to that, Emma! Anyways, I couldn't tell you what had happened because you just seemed so happy when we were talking on the phone a week before school started, talking about the boys you saw on the street in the East Coast but never had the guts to say anything to, and how your baby cousins were the cutest things in the world, and we were both home but dead from our summers so we never actually saw each other—which was probably my fault because I made up all those excuses—but I seriously didn't want to burden you with this… news."

"But I was your best friend—I could've handled it."

"I know. And I'm sorry, but I couldn't handle it if you knew. Your parents are stable and your dad is a great dad—remember your dollhouse? And the birthday you got Ava?—so I guess I was jealous too. It's stupid now, obviously, but… pride has always been a fatal flaw in the Davenport family, so I just let it get in between our friendship. And then you showed up today wearing what you were wearing and I realized I missed you. Normal Emma would've never worn that, and I wondered what had happened to make you change who you were."

"I—I'm sorry, Dex. I really am. That's why my mom never talks about your dad anymore. Or why I never see him around. Did he stay…?"

"Did he stay in Europe? Yeah he did."

"I—that's tough. Do you still need to punch something?"

Dex shook his head, smiling a little. "No, I'm good."

"And what about Evalyn?

He looked momentarily surprised that she knew about his love life. Which was stupid considering everyone knew about his love life.

"We're over. We've been over actually, but the grapevine has been unnaturally slow lately."

It almost seemed normal—this rapid fire way of conversing—but Emma still felt betrayed. And she probably would for a while, but now that it all made sense and it wasn't just a strange mood shift on his part, she figured she'd be over it in a month or two.

"So… truce?" He outstretched his pinky, a childlike gesture that had her smiling at him.

"Truce." They interlaced their pinkies and squeezed, and that was that—the pact was complete.

. xox .

It took Emma precisely three weeks, four days, two hours, and twenty-three minutes to (supposedly) get over Dex and the past two years.

And by then, he was coming over on a more regular basis, skin thickened against the teasing from his group of friends, claiming that it didn't even bother him at all anymore. They studied and munched on snacks and talked about what had happened in the years they hadn't been talking—after all, they both had a lot to catch up on.

"Did you ever date, Em?" Plus Dex was allowed to call her Em again, a perk that Dex actually really missed.

"I didn't really talk to guys unless I had to. I mean, I didn't feel attractive or anything and mostly I just felt weird around guys, like maybe they considered me a dude or something… so I just stayed away from them."

He laughed. "You'd never be considered a dude, silly. I mean, you really do look gorgeous."

"Thanks, Dex." Emma smiled brightly at him, grabbing a handful of popcorn from the bowl he was holding as they semi-watched the movie playing on the television in the living room, volume on low so they could talk.

"I don't need to ask you if you've dated anyone… the whole school knows."

Dex pushed her gently in the shoulder. "Shut up. Kinda sucks having everyone know your personal life."

"Did you ever fall in love with anyone, though? Nobody ever says anything about that."

"I—to be honest, never. I don't even really know what to expect. Like, how do you know if you're in love with someone?"

"I'm not the one you should be asking, Dex. I haven't even had an 'actual' boyfriend since Declan Logan in fifth grade."

She didn't even bother mentioning anything about the Dex Dilemma from the first day of school, because that certainly wasn't allowed to change anything with their mending relationship, and if she said anything, it would surely be ruined. No doubt about it.

"I think you should just know, though," she continued. "Kinda like how you know you'll be best friends with someone for your whole lives, even if you stop talking for two years."

He smiled at her, getting the reference instantly. "It was inevitable wasn't it? Becoming friends after our mothers kept pushing us together because they loved being best friends?"

"So inevitable. And it was probably inevitable that the two of us would be separated because of your stupidity."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me!"

"I'm not stupid!"

"You couldn't tell me about your dad when you knew I would've understood. I honestly thought it was because I didn't make that much of an effort to see you once we were back from vacation or because I hurt your feelings accidentally or something. I was wondering why you stopped talking to me for years."

She honestly thought she was over it, but just thinking about the two years without her best friend by her side was a little more painfully fresh than she'd originally realized.

She could remember picking up the phone to tell Dex about her day or ask him to come over to study or make something in the kitchen or help her pick an outfit or just simply be on the phone with him, like they used to do every night before bed, before realizing that they weren't talking anymore and then she would be forced to put the phone down.

She could remember putting her shoes on early in the morning to do her daily run of four miles and heading to his house to ask if he wanted to go with her before realizing he had forgotten about their friendship and promptly turning around to start her run all on her own, iPod blasted on high so her thoughts would be drowned out.

She could remember a lot of moments where she'd turn around, expecting Dex to be standing next to her, steadfast as ever, laughing at whatever she'd suddenly found funny.

"I really missed you, Dex," she whispered quietly, popcorn momentarily forgotten.

He looked over at her, eyes soft with concern as he assessed the expression on her face—brows furrowed as she tried desperately not to cry, lip jutted out in a pout and eyes miserably sad as she thought about everything they'd missed in each other's lives. But Emma was secretly pleased that he could still figure her out, even with two years of changes to adjust to.

Still watching her, he leaned over and placed the bowl of popcorn on the coffee table in front of them before he turned to face her and opened his arms, wordlessly offering her a hug.

She didn't even miss a beat, launching forward and into his arms as her own closed around his neck and his closed around her waist.

He squeezed as she tightened her hold on him, moving her body closer as he leaned back and let her rest her head under his chin.

"I missed you too, Em." She could feel the rumble of his chest under her ear, felt the baritone of his voice that was so different, and yet so similar, to the voice of her childhood—the voice that had kept her grounded and not jumping off the walls, who had held her back when she'd tried to punch Declan for setting his sights on another girl a mere two days after their implied break up, who had encouraged her to save up for her own dog, who had smiled blindingly bright as she received Ava the Shih Tzu for her thirteenth birthday.

Out of nowhere, she peered up at him and extracted herself from the hold. She looked like she was on the verge of an epiphany.

And then she said, "Hey can I sleep over?" and he was momentarily stunned speechless. Of course they'd spent a lot of time sleeping over at each other's houses when they were little—mostly because their parents traveled on multiple 'weekend getaways' to 'rekindle the fire' and usually it was either Emma's parents or Dex's parents—when his dad had still lived with them, of course—that offered to babysit for the weekend.

But now that they were older, he had assumed they were finished with those. Hormones were raging, no matter how best friend-like the other person might seem, and self control was an issue at times—no, more like all the time.

"Uh—why?"

"Well, my parents haven't had a vacation in forever, so they're going on one this weekend and technically I could stay at home by myself, but I've got Ava and she's always in the house. I think she'd enjoy a little break at yours—your mom loves Ava! And plus we've been talking a lot but we still have so much to catch up on, you know? I think it'd be fun."

Emma smiled brightly, obviously pleased with herself for thinking up such a brilliant plan. An all nighter with her best friend would most likely fill in the important details of the past two years.

He scratched the back of his neck, unsure about what he could say in this certain situation.

"Well… I can always ask my mom."

Almost immediately, she squealed and jumped forward to hug him again, and he really couldn't help but laugh at her excitement.

"Don't forget, you've gotta ask your parents too."

"Oh don't worry—they'll say yes. It's you after all. It's not like we're actually gonna do anything." Even if she did want to, kind of, not really, maybe a little bit.

And they did say yes. She almost wanted to rub an "I TOLD YOU SO" in his face, but she resisted—barely.

. xox .

On Friday, she appeared on his doorstep with a leash in her hand, her duffel bag, full of two days of clothes, slung on one shoulder with her laptop case on another. She looked ready to take something down.

Dex's mom answered the door, a brilliant smile lighting up her face as she realized that this was the first time in a very long while that she'd seen Emma on her front doorstep.

"Emma! Hello! I last saw you like, two nights ago, but you look as gorgeous as ever! Come in, sweetie!"

After giving Dex's mom a hug, she rushed up the stairs to Dex's room, bursting through the door like an unleashed tornado. Thankfully he was on his laptop, not like, partially naked or anything.

"DEXY I'M HEEEERE."

For a brief second, his mind flashed back to when she was five, the very first time she'd slept over and she'd said the exact same thing. A burst of nostalgia exploded in his chest as he smiled fondly at his childhood best friend.

He stood up to hug her, taking her bag and her laptop case from her before she flopped dramatically onto his bed.

"So, where am I sleeping?" Emma smiled slyly, just like she always did whenever she slept over.

It was weird, but it was expected and she was used to it. Instead of sleeping on the floor or on his bed while he slept on the floor, he would usually sneak into his own bed while she was supposedly sleeping once they were both sure his mom—or her parents in cases where Dex slept over at her house—was asleep. And then that was where the all nighter would originate, at least until one of them, usually Emma, fell asleep.

But now, she had no idea what he was expecting.

"Shut up." He laughed. "You're sleeping where you usually sleep. And so am I, silly."

Emma knew that was code; she just couldn't help but laugh at his face as he told her this information, like maybe he was over thinking their situation and in the middle of the night he would be moving to the couch.

Instead of saying anything, he completely ignored her laugh and talked over it. "Hey, do you wanna watch a movie? I think Mom rented some DVDs before she came home from work."

She hopped up, whistling for Ava to follow before she led the way down the stairs.

"DEXY I WANNA WATCH THIS ONE. Hey Momma Davenport, wanna watch it with us?"

Dex's mom, passing through the living room on her way to her bedroom, looked startled for a second, but Emma widened her eyes a tiny bit and suddenly she was asking if they wanted popcorn.

"Your mom totally loves me," she told Dex, like he didn't already know.

He didn't even say anything, just plopped his butt onto the couch and pressed play.

"Fine, be that way." Emma crossed her arms and pouted for fifteen minutes before she was leaning over across the pillows and asking Dex to pass the popcorn, please.

Dex's mom had bowed out of the movie, claiming that she had an early morning tomorrow for work, before wishing the two of them goodnight and lightly reminding them to go to sleep early.

Emma had giggled uncontrollably. Never had she ever slept early at a sleepover. Never. It was practically fatal at sleepovers, particularly with girls she didn't trust.

But for once in her life, Emma was actually getting sleepy as she watched the movie, her eyes steadily closing, head already resting firmly on Dex's shoulder, the obstructing pillow from before warming her lap.

"How c'n you watch this, Dex?" she mumbled, resting her eyes for a bit.

"It's action, Em. What more does a boy want in a movie?"

"I dunno. Maybe food."

He laughed, the vibration humming pleasantly in her ear.

"You speak truth, best friend."

"I usually do."

And when he tried to continue the conversation, he looked down on a whim, not exactly surprised to find Emma completely knocked out, mouth open and eyes innocently closed.

Dex tried not to smile too much.

. xox .

Once the movie was over, Dex looked down, wondering how exactly he was supposed to move her. Obviously piggy back wasn't going to work, and neither was dragging her up the stairs. He could either carry her bridal style or over his back. Over his back seemed too abduction-esque so he settled on the bridal style, making sure she didn't wake up all of a sudden and freak out, probably falling onto the floor in her panic.

But she was out cold.

He tucked her into his bed, debating on whether or not he should slip in too. The air mattress wasn't set up yet and the pump was obnoxiously loud, so the decision was a no brainer.

Keeping his sweats on, he slipped into his side of the bed, the first line of defense in case anyone decided to rob the house. She was pressed against the wall, arms splayed in a random position.

Dex turned the lights off, feeling a little awkward as he turned on his side, away from her, trying to sleep for once. She was staying for two nights, so the second night would most likely be the 'catch up of all catch up' all nighters.

Just as he was beginning to fall asleep, she began to move, mumbling incoherently. Her hand somehow found its way onto his arm, and he couldn't help but roll over to face her, wondering if this was a nightmare and she wanted to be woken up.

Tears began to roll down her face, and he was baffled. Was this a nightmare? Or was she crying because it was a happy dream?

And then she said his name in this voice that broke his heart and he realized just what her dream was about.

He was almost afraid to wake her up.

But then she began to curl into herself, pillow clutched to her chest, still crying, and he couldn't help it—he shook her, carefully, gently saying her name as she continued to cry.

"Em… wake up, Emma. It's just a bad dream." He continued to shake her, even tickling her sides at one point, but she still wouldn't wake up.

Dex was about to poke her face as a last ditch attempt before he brought out the ice bucket, but her eyes flashed open before he could even touch her, blue eyes terrified and he grabbed her face in his hands, making sure his eyes were connecting with hers.

"Emma, hey, it's me, just me. That was just a really bad nightmare."

She shook her head, still blinking tears out of her eyes. "I—Dex, you left again."

"I figured that out when you said my name." Dex tried to smile gently, but her emotions were slowly transferring over to him; mostly he just felt guilty.

"I said your name? I didn't know."

"It's okay. I… I was trying to wake you up."

"Th-thanks. It was really, really bad. I don't want to go back to sleep." Emma frowned, eyes still downcast as ever. She was like a little puppy that had just been kicked out of the house.

"I'm sorry." He let go of her face, opting to pull her towards him in a hug instead. It was almost the same as when they were children, but she was dealing with something far more important than an unrequited schoolgirl crush.

He tried not to notice, but she still fit as perfectly against him as she had when they'd been eight, when he'd woken her up from a nightmare about a mutant puppy set out to eat her family.

Before he knew it, she had fallen asleep again, breaths coming out evenly; he matched his breathing to hers, and within a few minutes, he had fallen asleep as well.

. xox .

Dex woke up first, as usual, undeniably an early riser no matter how late he had fallen asleep.

He tried to extract himself from Emma's clutches, but her grip—even while she was sleeping—was so strong he could barely move.

Huffing a little, he kept shifting, hoping she would wake up and yell at him for moving so much.

Fifteen minutes later, she did just that, eyes snapping open as she sat up quickly and glared at him.

"STOP MOVING OH MY GOD I AM TRYING TO SLEEP HERE."

Normally he would've replied calmly—after all, 12 years of friendship, including those two where they had barely exchanged a glance, and he was still used to her outbursts—but he really had to go to the restroom and she was just making it even more painful to be awake and laying in bed, staring at the ceiling.

"WELL YOU ARE A ROCK WHEN YOU ARE SLEEPING AND I HAVE TO PEE REALLY BAD."

She blinked, surprised. Obviously she wasn't supposed to be messing with his bladder. "S-sorry." Emma released his arm, stifling her giggles as he shot out of bed and ran to the restroom.

Never the type of person that was able to fall asleep again after someone had woken her up, Emma stood up and stretched, surprised that she was still in the clothes from yesterday.

That movie must've been bo-ring.

Picking out a random t-shirt and pajama shorts, she closed the door firmly—a silent don't even think about coming in here that they had perfected over the years—and changed, pulling her long brunette hair into a ponytail before she stepped out of his room, went down the stairs, and plopped her butt on a chair at the kitchen table, Ava following faithfully by her side.

"Good morning, Momma Davenport," she chirped.

Dex's mom looked over at her, eyebrows raised. "Emma, it's six thirty in the morning. Why are you up this early?"

Her eyes widened; she'd never realized it was so early. Freaking Dex. "It was Dex. He woke up, and then he made SO MUCH NOISE that I woke up too."

"So it was his fault huh?"

"Whose fault was what?" Speak of the devil.

Dex walked into the kitchen, dressed in sweatpants and an old t-shirt, towel drying his still-damp hair.

"Your fault for waking me up at six thirty in the morning."

"It's six thirty? I didn't even look at the clock. I'm sorry, Em." He smiled at her sheepishly, fidgeting with the wet towel in his hands for a second before he about-faced and went back to the bathroom, probably intent on hanging it up to dry.

She grumbled to herself at boys and their lack of consideration for her beauty sleep before his mom looked at her oddly and she shut up. "What's for breakfast?" she asked instead, a question she was positive Mrs. Davenport would be able to answer.

"Eggs and bacon. Like always, Em." Dex's mom laughed at the silly question before she placed a steaming pile of food in front of Emma, handing her a spoon and a fork before urging her to dig in.

Before Dex even had a chance to sit down, his mom had already placed his own humongous pile of food next to hers, spoon and fork ready as he shot into his chair at the island, eagerly digging in.

"Geez, Dex, I'm surprised you haven't inhaled the plate at the rate you're going."

He sniffed, looking at her with quiet dignity. "I'm a growing boy, Em. Mom knows that, don't ya Mom?"

"Yes I do, but now I have to go to work, so you two behave yourselves okay?" She walked around the island, placing a kiss on both of their foreheads before she grabbed her car keys from the bowl next to Dex's hand and disappeared into the garage.

As Dex was finishing his plate and eying her food like he wanted some, Emma asked the most important question on both of their minds.

"What're we doing today?" Rolling her eyes, she pushed the plate over to him, smothering a smile as he dug in with as much gusto as he had five minutes before.

"I was thinking a movie. Or we can bake something."

"Or we can do both!"

He laughed, because that was exactly what she always said when he suggested two totally different things.

"Or we can do both," he repeated.

Once he was finally finished with his breakfast, Emma was already prancing around the living room, her early morning wake-up call entirely forgotten as she flourished his lost car keys with a triumphant cry.

"Let's go get COOOOOKIES! Oh and a movie. That isn't boring this time!"

Dex narrowed his eyes, playfully dangerous. "Fine, but you're paying for your supposedly non-boring movie."

"I'll buy it if I have to! You buy the cookie mix."

"Deal."

Half an hour later, both teenagers barged into the house, toting three bags of groceries—Dex with two, while Emma had one, which she had insisted on carrying mainly because it had her purchased DVD in it.

"Okay, so, we bake WHITE CHOCOLATE MACADAMIA COOKIES first and then we watch the DVD. That is the master plan! We can't deviate from it. Understood?"

"Yes, ma'am." And because he felt like being a cheeky little best friend, he saluted her while she was peering in his mother's pantry, looking for the ingredients they would need.

Multiple cries of triumphant discovery soon erupted throughout the kitchen as Emma found the ingredients she needed.

Once they were all assembled on the counter in the order of which they would go into the mixing bowl, Emma clapped with unconcealed joy, excited at the prospect of turning on the mixer and letting it do all the work. It was practically a flashback to their red velvet cupcake making days.

Less baking time equaled more movie time.

But suddenly the mixer stopped turning, and Emma was getting increasingly annoyed. Dex placed a placating hand on her shoulder, turning her around to face him.

"We can always do it manually," he offered.

"But-but… that's no fun." She pouted, eyes downcast.

He chucked her chin so she would look at him again, and he smiled. "I'll do it, and it won't be boring, because then we can watch the movie while I mix!"

Her eyes immediately lit up. "Dex, you're a genius!"

"I try, I try."

"Okay you mix then. And watch the movie with me! Come on, come on!" She pulled him into the living room, barely waiting for him to grab the mixing bowl and a blue spatula from the drawer closest to him.

Emma bounced over to the DVD player, popping in the newly bought movie she hadn't let him see.

As the opening credits began, Emma plopped herself onto the couch dramatically, patting the cushion next to her so he would walk over and sit down instead of stand awkwardly by the kitchen.

Once the title was revealed, he looked over at her and raised an eyebrow. "Tangled? Really, Em?"

"It's a good movie!"

"It's for children!"

"So? We're children!"

"We're teenagers!"

"But we can still enjoy some childhood, okay! So shut your mouth and mix!"

He shut his mouth and mix.

. xox .

Once the movie was close to over, with Emma still curled up on the couch and holding a pillow to her chest as she sniffled her way through the climax, Dex was periodically checking up on her precious cookies, making sure they weren't about to be burned.

As the timer went off and Dex practically sprinted to the kitchen to pull the cookies out, Emma was still crying through the reunion of parents and daughter, segueing completely into laughter at the happily ever after like a deliriously happy toddler before she clapped her hands and cheered.

"Honestly, Em, you've watched this movie before. In the theater."

"I know! But I've never watched it in your house! I forgot what happened."

"Welp. Now you remember! Want some cookies?"

She immediately stood up and hopped over to the counter, balancing three cookies in each hand.

"Are you gonna share, Em?"

His best friend looked at him like he was crazy. "Uh, no. These are all mine. I saved you some!"

Dex looked at the cookie sheet then back up at her, still sitting on the sofa as she stuffed her face with cookies.

"There's only two left."

"I thought you made more!"

"I made one batch for the two of us and saved the rest for later," he explained. "Give me some of yours!"

"NEVER!"

"Don't make me come over there!"

"Well it's not like I'll be moving!"

Dex huffed, crossing his arms. "I made them. You just sat there and cried."

"So? I'm a guest in your house."

"But… but… damn, you've got a point there."

"So ha!"

"You are so immature."

"No I'm not. You're just upset because I got more cookies than you did, because you're slow."

"I was trying to be nice! How was I supposed to know you would take almost the entire thing?"

"You're my best friend! You should've just known!"

"You're insane!"

"But you love me." Whenever he called her insane or immature, Emma was pretty sure that meant she was about to win. And she really enjoyed winning.

"Sure I do."

"And for graciously accepting defeat, here you go." Laughing, she offered a cookie out to him, waiting for him to step forward and reach for it before taking the cookie back. "Just kidding!"

"You little…" He pounced on her suddenly, eliciting a high-pitched shriek as she tried to fight him off, all while simultaneously keeping her cookies away from him.

"You'll never get these cookies alive!" she cried, flinging her arms away from him. "Save yourself my pretties!" And then she threw them onto the plate sitting on the coffee table, still shrieking as he found her most vulnerable ticklish spots.

"Stop it! I don't have 'em anymore!"

Dex was laughing as he eased up on her, breathing hard as she glared him down.

"You didn't have to suffocate me!" she accused.

"I wasn't suffocating you! Merely trying to weaken your defenses."

"Nuh uh. Seemed like you were trying to kill me."

"Give me a cookie then, and I will never suffocate you again."

She stared at him, eyes unreadable. Finally she sighed, pointing to the plate. "Just one."

"Thank you! That was all it took you know."

"But it's still my cookie."

"Whatever you say, Em. Whatever you say."

. xox .

The rest of the day passed by uneventfully, with Dex tapping away on his laptop, Emma reorganizing his extensive (boring) movie collection in alphabetical order.

"Why is this in another language?" she sputtered, throwing the offending DVD at the back of his head.

He exhaled a silent gasp of pain, rubbing the back of his head while he turned around in his chair and held the DVD with the other.

"Christmas gift from my uncle," he explained. "The dude likes foreign films."

"Does it have subtitles?"

"Of course it does, Em. I'm not multilingual."

She huffed. "Well I was just asking. Have you watched it?"

"Not… exactly? I just send a thank you note and that's pretty much it."

Emma frowned, but took the DVD from him and placed it at the end of the shelf, presumably reserving that space for any more foreign movies she might encounter along the way.

Later on, when they were both done with their respective laptop and organization duties, they looked at each other.

"Now what do we do?" Emma asked.

"I'm not… exactly sure."

"POOL!" she screamed almost immediately. "I brought my bathing suit just in case."

He laughed, shaking his head. "Fine, but whoever gets in there last has to clean it up after!"

"That'll be you, my friend!" she shrieked, running down the stairs and discarding her shirt and shorts along the way.

Realizing he had just been duped, Dex grumbled as he pulled his trunks out of a drawer and changed into them.

"No fair!" he yelled, opening the door to the backyard, suddenly met with a colossal splash from Emma, who was already in the pool. "You totally planned this! How could I be so stupid?! You were wearing your suit this whole time?!"

"I wanted to go into the pool," she laughed. "Plus I thought you already knew my suit was on. Some kind of best friend you are."

"You're no fair," he repeated, splashing her in the face.

"You were the one who did the whole 'whoever gets in there last' thing!"

"Still. You're no fair."

Emma grinned at him, recognizing his defeated tone almost immediately. He wasn't angry at her, of course; he knew she would probably forget the whole bet and go on as if nothing had happened.

"Wanna play Marco Polo?" she asked, realizing that something would probably happen because of this stupid question she had just blurted into the oblivion, out of nowhere. But she decided to let the fear go.

He gave her a look from all the way on the other side of the pool, but nodded nonetheless. "You be Marco first!"

Emma huffed, but decided that was a fair proposition—she had initiated the game.

Closing her eyes, she cried, "Marcooooo!"

Somewhere to her left came a deep, "Poloooo!"

She grinned to herself and swerved to the right, her ears picking up a chuckle from Dex, no doubt a chuckle that practically screamed victory.

"Marcoooo!"

"Poloooo!" Behind her now and close; she squealed, turned around, and pushed her body forward, meeting resistance. "I found you! THAT WAS LAME I FOUND YOU SO EASILY."

"Maybe I wanted you to find me," he teased, wrapping his arms around her waist as he pulled her closer.

Emma was getting flustered; they never ever engaged in this kind of… friendship. Would this even be considered friendship?

"I—well I'm good at it."

"What else are you good at?" Dex asked quietly, meeting her eyes immediately as they flashed open.

She laughed nervously. "I don't really know…" Desperately, she tried not to think about how he was dripping wet from the pool and that his chest was dangerously close to hers and that she was breathing heavier than she had been five minutes ago and it was all his fault.

"You sure?"

Emma nodded emphatically, eyes still locked with his.

"I can think of several," he whispered into her ear, breaking their eye contact as she gulped.

"And what are they?" she replied slowly, hands locked in between them, idly resting in the water as they served as a barrier.

"You're a good listener and you're great at making me laugh and you're the bestest best friend a guy could ever ask for."

She smiled at him as he pulled back, waiting for him to smile back before she asked the question that had been plaguing her for the past… oh, two minutes.

"Just a best friend?" she asked deliberately, quietly, eyes drifting to watch as the water in the pool rippled along with the movements of his hands.

His hands stilled on her waist for a minute before they tightened and she looked up at him with surprise clear on her face.

"What do you think?" he asked pointedly, looking down at his hands.

Emma shook her head and laughed, meeting his eyes again before he threw the Best Friend Code out of the window, took the initiative and leaned down to kiss her.

He tasted like chlorine and smelled like it too, but dammit her best friend was a good kisser. No wonder Evalyn was always hanging off of his arm or attaching her face to his.

And it certainly didn't help that all he was wearing were silver and black swimming trunks and all she was wearing was a blue and green striped bikini.

Dex pulled her closer, if that were even possible, and smiled against her lips as she squeaked with the movement.

When he finally let her breathe, she was smiling like an idiot and so was he. She could finally let the butterflies resting in her stomach fly free as she beamed at him.

"I'm hungry," she told him, and all he did was laugh as he grabbed her hand and pulled her into his arms again.

. xox .

When Dex's mom got home, the two of them were sprawled on the couch, still damp from their separate showers, Emma reading a book while Dex lazily surfed the channels, her legs resting over his lap while his rested on the recliner.

"What did you do today?" Dex's mom asked, bending over to kiss both of them on the top of their heads.

Emma smiled. "We made cookies!"

"And Em wouldn't share—"

"—so Dex squished me to death!"

"Sounds like fun." Dex's mom laughed on her way up the stairs to change into more comfortable clothing, shaking her head at just how childish these two teenagers still were around each other.

For dinner, Emma and Dex were craving mac and cheese, so they had somehow persuaded Dex's mom to make some for the two of them.

After dinner, Dex's mom immediately said goodnight; she needed to sleep before she passed out on her feet.

"So what do we do now?" Emma asked, glancing over at Dex.

"Another movie or we can go to my room and attempt sleep."

"But… it's a sleepover! We never attempt sleep."

He laughed. "You did last night, Em."

"That movie was boring, okay! Goodness."

"I enjoyed it."

"Because you're boring."

"You're mean when you're sleepy."

"I'm not sleepy."

"Well then, you're just mean." He stuck his tongue out at her, prompting Emma to reciprocate.

"We're so immature."

"And we're in high school."

"But we seriously are not in the state of mind to be attempting sleep."

"And why is that?"

"We'd just be making out the whole time, and it's still processing in my head so it's still a little weird."

"Kissing me is weird?"

She giggled, pushing him in the shoulder. "No, it's not. It's just… it's you, Dex."

"And what's wrong with me?"

"Besides being a dork that spoils me within an inch of my life?"

"Yes. Besides that."

"You're my best friend."

"So? You've seen the movies—there are a million that're about best friends falling in love with each other."

"I know that," she laughed. "I've watched them with you! But those people are actors. They're paid to fall in love with the other person. We, on the other hand, don't have the luxury of monetary compensation."

Dex shook his head, smiling as he shifted his gaze, meeting her eyes, determination shining in their depths.

"You have a point," he conceded, "but is it really such a bad thing, being in love with your best friend?"

"Well, I mean, no… but—but we have more to lose."

"Who says we have to lose anything?"

"Let's just say we have a huge fight that has me screaming at you and then you walk out because you're so angry… and then there. We lost something."

"That's only a what if, though. We could always apologize."

"But it's still possible! Have you met me?" Emma raised an eyebrow at him, but he had a reply on his tongue before she even had a chance to breathe.

"Then we'll work through it."

She sighed. "We better."

They stayed silent for a while, Dex peeking at her from the corners of his eyes before he decided the silence was getting too oppressive.

He turned his torso a couple degrees so he could face her without hurting himself and smiled, white teeth flashing and everything.

She looked up from her book and met his eyes with a wary curiosity.

"What?"

But all he did was smile, didn't even bother saying anything as his fingers crept up and tickled the bottom of her foot mercilessly.

Emma shrieked, jumping and causing her book to fly across the room. "Dex! Stop!"

He was laughing now, relentless and unyielding with this sudden attack.

She leaned forward and tried to slap him, gasping with indignation when his free hand grabbed hold of her wrist and pulled her closer to him.

Their faces were ridiculously close now—she was practically breathing his air—and her abs were crying from this change of position.

His fingers ceased their ruthless movements and then he was just smiling at her as he met her eyes with unprecedented innocence.

"What?"

"You—you're mean."

"And you think too much," he quipped, right before he pulled her those last couple inches towards him and captured her lips with his.

Retort dying quickly at the sudden lip contact, Emma surrendered, smiling as he pushed her back gently, lips still attached, his body following hers with an easy grace that surprised her.

As soon as her back hit the opposite end of the couch, he was on top of her, and she could tell he was trying not to squish her.

Rolling her eyes inwardly at his impeccable manners, she grabbed a hold of his shirt and pulled him down forcefully, grunting when his full weight landed on top of her.

He made to push himself up on his arms but suddenly her arms were around his neck and he was helpless, giving in without a single word.

"You taste like cheese," she laughed, finally pulling away to catch her breath.

"So do you." He was grinning like an idiot, breathing hard, his forehead touching hers.

"Well duh. We had mac and cheese for dinner."

"Are you hungry again?" he asked pointedly.

Sheepishly, she nodded, pressing her hands lightly on his chest so he would get off her. "Do you want some?"

Dex stood up instead of answering, lunging forward so he could grab a hold of her hand. "Only if we share."

"Fine, but you're getting it then."

"Fine with me."

They shared mac and cheese at the kitchen table, playing footsie with each other as they simply talked and asked stupid, random questions, just like they always had.

Dex decided it was the best non-sleepover they had ever had.

And when he finally fell asleep in his bed, Emma safely in his arms, all of their clothes still on, he decided it was probably the best day of his life.

.

.

.

. to be continued .


author's note. hi everyone! long time no post, huh? welp. here's emma and dex, two people that jumped into my brain and yelled at me to write them a story already! i wasn't planning for this to be almost 15,000 words, but that's what it turned out to be. and plus i'm not even done, to tell you the truth. i'm stuck on their college years and beyond (so if you wanna see anything, except M-rated things LOL, just let me know in a review!) but i wanted to post something for a while now, so here it is. i'd love to know what you think. (: